It’s time for Anchorage to join the future with vote-by-mail election

Voting is a right in the United States, Alaska and Anchorage. I have also been taught that it is a responsibility and privilege. My earliest memories of voting stem from the fifth grade in Wheaton, Kansas, when our teacher, Eula Tibbetts, lined up the class of seven and marched us next door to the polling place, the gym. We spent several hours learning about voting and watching people coming in to cast their votes.

People have been voting by casting their ballot in much the same way since the inception of this great country. We get a ballot, go into a booth and vote in secret. Just about everything has changed in the last 250 years except for how we vote. We select our chosen candidates and issues on a paper ballot. Unfortunately, people have, at some time forgotten that it is their responsibility to vote and how important the responsibility is. When I see that only 20 percent of registered voters voted in a local election I have to wonder if it is the issues on the ballot or if the system of voting is wanting.

In Colorado, Oregon and Washington state citizens have been casting their ballots by mail for a number of years. It is time for us in Anchorage to join the future in voting. Voting by mail in municipal elections is not really new, as a large number of snowbirds and people on vacation have been voting absentee by mail ballots for years. Last year I voted from Florida. I looked at the system and determined that my vote was as secure as if I had voted in person.

Voting by mail does change the dynamic for candidates because the people who vote by mail as with past absentee ballots will be known not only to the clerk's office but also to interested persons. This does not reveal how you voted, just that you voted. Now as soon as your vote is received by the Election Center your name will be added to the list of voters. This has been criticized by some but only those who did not know that for up to 25 percent of voters who voted absentee, this practice has been used in the past.

[Anchorage will soon hold its first mail-ballot election. Here's what will change.]

Why the change? Low voter turnout is the most important reason for me, but there are other reasons just as important to others. Have you ever worked the polls? They open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. I don't know about you, but I like to sleep in until 8 a.m. and I am thinking about bed by 8 p.m. Where do you find 650-plus workers who are available for a single day's work that are ready, willing, and able to work a 13 hour day? It was getting tougher and tougher and took months for the municipal clerk to pull off poll-based voting.

Next, the voting machines used in Anchorage are very familiar to those who vote.  They are getting old. The cost of replacement is huge and could be better spent. When the polls closed at 8 p.m., there was a race to close the poll down and get the ballots and information to City Hall. Election Central is open and waiting for initial results. I have been there and even though the goal is 10 p.m., people have waited to the wee hours the next day to get enough information to declare a winner. So, after a 13-hour day of work, election workers were racing downtown from each polling place to deliver the ballots. We are lucky that there were no serious accidents.


The Anchorage municipal clerk's office has been planning this initial vote-by-mail election for several years. The clerk's office has pulled together a large group of stakeholders to make sure the i's are dotted and t's are crossed. The onetime cost of equipping an Election Center has occurred with equipment purchased and tested. The next step is for you or us, the voters, to fill out and cast our ballots and mail them in before 8 p.m. If you don't want to pay for postage there will be 12 secure drop boxes placed around town on Election Day in which to place your signed and sealed ballot. Please sign using your official signature because that is how the envelope will be authenticated. Also, don't worry, there are protections in place to make sure no human will know how you voted.

If you don't want to vote by mail, there will still be five Accessible Vote Centers to cast your ballot. For locations and hours, go to the website below or call MOA Elections at 243-VOTE(8683).

Want to know more? Type www.muni.org/elections in your browser.

Tom McGrath, retired previous owner of Frigid North Electronics Co., has been involved in local politics for 40 years as an observer and commentator as well as serving on various boards and commissions.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.