Opinions

OPINION: Making Anchorage the best vote-at-home jurisdiction in the US

Anchorage voters deserve nothing less than the best in elections. The Municipality of Anchorage elections team is hard at work alongside stakeholders, voters, observers and elected officials to implement pro-voter election policies and to follow best election practices. Our vision, best said by Randy Ruedrich, a member of the original Elections Stakeholders group from 2016, is “making Anchorage the best Vote at Home jurisdiction in the United States!”

We are proud that municipal elections are shaped by the people, for the people. Guided by the recommendation of more than 50 community stakeholders, including business representatives, members of different political parties, members of non-partisan voting organizations, community council groups, representatives from the State of Alaska Division of Elections and the U.S. Post Office, election workers and other people involved in elections and voting, the Municipality of Anchorage made the decision to move to a vote-at-home system in 2016.

In the five years since Anchorage’s first vote-at-home election in 2018, one thing is clear: Anchorage voters like voting from home. Voters who work long hours in child care or in health care like voting at home; voters who are disabled and elderly like voting at home; voters serving in the military or on extended assignments outside of the Municipality like voting from a temporary address; voters who work full time and have busy lives like the reminder to vote by receiving their ballot in the mail and the opportunity to study the issues on the ballot with three weeks before the election to vote. During the 2022 regular municipal election, 66,844 voters voted with their mailed ballot. That’s 96.4% of all ballots received in the election.

The Anchorage vote-at-home system is headquartered at the Anchorage Election Center, a facility that belongs to the people of Anchorage. From the beginning, public input received at the Anchorage Election Center -- to make sure that computer ports are disabled, to use to larger computer screens, to livestream on YouTube 24/7 during election processing -- continues to improve your local elections.

These are just a few ways Anchorage’s vote-at-home system is implementing pro-voter best practices towards becoming the best vote-by-mail jurisdiction in the U.S.:

• Universal delivery of no-excuse vote-at-home ballots;

• Extended early voting;

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• Fair ballot curing policies;

• Multiple accessible return options;

• Ballot tracking;

• Security at the MOA Election Center.

Universal delivery of no excuse vote-at-home ballots: The Anchorage Vote at Home system universally sends ballots by mail to all qualified, registered voters at least 21 days before Election Day; military and overseas voters’ ballots are mailed 35 days before Election Day. Anchorage voters may apply to vote from a temporary address -- if the voter is working out of Anchorage, at college, on vacation, or caring for a family Outside -- from approximately Dec. 1 until 7 days before the election; voters may apply to vote by fax or email; and voters who are elderly, disabled or otherwise homebound may request and have a Special Needs ballot delivered to them at their home.

Allowing extended early voting: The Anchorage Vote Centers are available for extended, early and in-person voting beginning nine days before Election Day. The Anchorage Vote Centers are open on the Saturday and Sunday before Election Day. On Election Day, April 4, 2023, voters may vote in-person from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Anchorage Vote Centers provide other voter services such as updating voter registrations and offering voter assistance.

Fair ballot curing policies: The Anchorage Vote at Home System requires MOA Elections to mail a “cure” letter to voters within three days of processing their envelope to let them know if there is an issue with their ballot envelope regarding the signature, or other issues. Those voters have up to 15 days after the election, before the start of the Election Commission’s Public Session of Canvass, to fix any errors on their ballot return envelope.

Multiple accessible return options: The Anchorage Vote at Home system allows voters to return their municipal election ballot in one of three ways: (1) by U.S. mail or other delivery service as long as it is postmarked by Election Day and received in time as specified in the code; (2) to one of the 18 secure drop boxes available 24/7 throughout the municipality starting 21 days before the election and until 8 p.m. on Election Day; or (3) to an Anchorage Vote Center.

Ballot tracking: The Anchorage Vote at Home system allows voters to track the status of their ballot return envelope either by registering with BallotTrax at anchoragevotes.com or by calling the Voter Hotline at 907-243-(VOTE) 8683. Voters may track their ballot from the time it was mailed; when it is received at the Election Center; and if the signature was determined to be “good” or if the signature was challenged.

Security at the MOA Election Center: In addition to the alarms, security cameras, cipher locks and on-site security that protect ballots and equipment at the Election Center, the pair of software systems that contain either voter data or tabulate results are not connected to the internet. Although the systems routinely pass pre- and post-election audits, we know cyber threats are real; the elections team, observers and the public are vigilant of security threats and are reminded, “If you see something, say something!”

We are proud to work toward making the Anchorage vote-at-home system the best in the U.S., with pro-voter practices and transparency at the forefront. The safe and secure Municipality of Anchorage vote-at-home system has increased voter turnout in Anchorage by making it more convenient for voters to vote.

In 2023, see for yourself — vote at home on or before April 4!

Barbara Jones is the Municipal Clerk at the Municipality of Anchorage. Jamie Heinz is the Elections Administrator at the Municipality of Anchorage. For more information about the April 4 regular municipal election, visit www.muni.org/elections.

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