Fighting for safe elections for all Alaskans

Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, who has the difficult job of running elections in Alaska, decided last month to send applications for absentee ballots, along with letters encouraging them to vote, only to voters over the age of 65. This benefit has not been extended to any other demographic in this state. The state claims this mailing was an effort at outreach to one group of Alaskans for the purpose of protecting public health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we fully support the state’s goal of having a safe and secure election in very difficult circumstances. But that means the state must reach out to all Alaskans. Choosing one group of voters who will get this benefit does not do enough to protect those facing a heightened risk from the pandemic. Moreover, the state’s selective outreach doesn’t comply with the 26th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which prohibits age discrimination in voting.

That legal problem is why we joined a lawsuit challenging Meyer’s actions. The plaintiffs are a broad, non-partisan coalition of organizations and individual voters, including folks representing the disabled, Alaska Native, public interest, and immunocompromised community groups in Alaska. Our lawsuit makes a simple request: We simply want mail-in ballot applications and short letters clearly explaining safe voting options to be sent to all Alaska voters, not just older voters.

The 26th Amendment to the Constitution states a very simple principle: Don’t discriminate based on age when it comes to voting. This is a sensible extension of principle prohibiting discrimination by race and gender, and it is a way to ensure the state follows the “one person, one vote” principle.

Equal treatment is especially critical this year. Voting should be accessible and safe for everyone. And voting via mail has been shown to be both safe and without increased incidents of voter fraud. As the Anchorage Daily News editorial board recently stated, “The incidence of voter fraud in mail-in voting is about 0.00006% — about one ballot per state every six or seven years.”

For this reason, we applaud the state’s efforts to make voting by mail more easily available. For example, anyone with an internet connection and a state ID can go to www.elections.alaska.gov and request a mail-in ballot right now, and we encourage you to do so. The state has touted that requesting a ballot online is safe and faster for the state to process. That’s important, because the state will surely see a historic surge in absentee ballot requests this fall.

But not everyone has a reliable internet connection or a state ID, particularly in rural areas or those who live in group homes. The state should extend this benefit to everyone so that those who don’t have an internet connection or state ID can also request a ballot by mail. That’s why it’s important to also send vote-by-mail applications to every Alaska voter, at least as a backup option.

The Lieutenant Governor’s decision to fail to reach out to younger voters about voting by mail directly contradicts others within his own administration, including the state’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anne Zink. Dr. Zink, who has been a stalwart supporter of social distancing during the pandemic, has reiterated the need for precautionary measures even after the gradual reopening of the Alaska economy. In fact, from her official Facebook page, Dr. Zink has suggested that Alaskans “try to keep all non- essential indoor time with non-family members to less than 10 minutes, while masked and ... 6 feet apart,” something that will be difficult to do at the polls during a presidential election.


Encouraging everyone to vote by mail is the best way to keep people safe and socially distanced. The state’s decision to send application only to a few voters, then, does just the opposite. Our lawsuit against the lieutenant governor and the Division of Elections, if successful, will not only protect the public health this fall, it will also help expand voting access in an unprecedented manner.

While Meyer’s decision clearly violates the plain text of a constitutional amendment prohibiting age discrimination in voting, it also has a more pernicious impact: It makes certain groups feel more valued than others. We interact everyday with people who face obstacles to voting that are similar to or even more severe than those faced by older voters. For people with disabilities, getting to the polls can be difficult and even dangerous. In the Alaska Native community, folks often lack state-issued driver’s licenses and would have to drive substantial distances to vote in person. And the immunocompromised or those with underlying conditions live with a serious health risk every day the pandemic persists. By failing to include every Alaskan in the state’s friendly summer mailing, the state has made this group of Alaskans feel less important than others in choosing our elected officials.

Indeed, Lt. Gov. Meyer should view this historic election as an opportunity to potentially expand voter participation to 100% by drastically lowering the barrier many Alaskans face to participating in the democratic process. By reaching out to all registered voters and sending applications for mail-in ballots, every voter will be able to easily participate in the general election this fall without leaving their homes. If there is a silver lining in the pandemic, that might be it.

Earlier this year, the lieutenant governor promised to ensure maximum access for “all Alaskans.” Our goal with our litigation is to simply hold him to his promise to include all Alaskans in his valuable outreach efforts. No one should be left out.

Veri di Suvero is the Executive Director of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group. AKPIRG is a state-wide non-partisan public interest and consumer rights advocacy group. Chad Hansen is a staff attorney with the Disability Law Center of Alaska. Disability Law Center of Alaska is the designated Protection and Advocacy System for the State of Alaska, advocating for the rights of Alaskans with disabilities and monitoring against abuse and neglect.

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