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More Alaskans than ever have signed up to vote absentee by mail in this year’s primary election

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, is seen in his office Monday, July 13, 2020. Kiehl is hand-stuffing newsletters with absentee ballot applications for all 22,000 households in his district. (James Brooks / ADN)

A record number of Alaskans have signed up to cast ballots by mail in this year’s primary election, and an unprecedented effort is underway to convince even more voters to fill out application forms.

With public health experts worried that polling places could spread the pandemic and volunteer poll workers staying away, the state has encouraged Alaskans to request absentee ballots by filling out a request form. It has opened an online application process and has sent paper applications to all registered voters at least 65 years old.

The Alaska Republican Party, as it has each year since 1994, is sending paper applications to registered Republicans. The Alaska Democratic Party is planning to send applications to its members. Several state lawmakers said they have sent or are sending applications to their constituents.

Through Tuesday, the Alaska Division of Elections it has received 15,408 absentee ballot applications, and the deadline to postmark such applications isn’t until Aug. 8. In 2018 and 2016, the state received about 10,800 applications for the primary.

On Monday, Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, was in his state Capitol office, deliberately stickering thousands of paper newsletters containing absentee ballot applications.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, is seen in his office Monday, July 13, 2020. Kiehl is hand-stuffing newsletters with absentee ballot applications for all 22,000 households in his district. (James Brooks / ADN)

Under the state’s guidelines, anyone can cast an absentee ballot for any reason but doing so requires first filling out a form and sending it to the Division of Elections.

Earlier this year, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer said the state would open an online process and send paper forms to all registered Alaska voters at least 65 years old. That disgruntled some members of the state Legislature, including Kiehl, who felt all registered voters should receive a paper form.

He and some members of the Senate’s Democratic minority took it upon themselves to insert absentee ballot applications into the newsletters they send to the residents of their legislative districts. Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, sent his in June. Kiehl, who isn’t up for election this year, is sending his this week.

Lindsay Kavanaugh, director of the Alaska Democratic Party, said her party is sending applications to Alaska’s registered Democrats sometime in the next three weeks. Alaska Republican Party chair Glenn Clary said his party’s mailer is at the printer and will go out by the end of this week.

But more than half of Alaska’s voters are nonpartisan or undeclared voters, meaning they won’t receive physical ballot request forms from the Democrats or Republicans. If they’re not over 65, they won’t receive the state’s mailer.

“From my perspective, if they were going to do it ... why not just be prepared for all voters?” Kavanaugh said.

That was the decision of Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, who said in June that the age limit was based on the advice of medical professionals.

“They are in the vulnerable group,” he said, speaking about the effects of the coronavirus.

Now, however, new cases of coronavirus are becoming more frequent among younger Alaskans. The lieutenant governor’s office supervises elections but declined additional comment this week, saying its comments from June still stand.

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