ANCHORAGE — Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer held a virtual town hall on Thursday with Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai to answer questions about the upcoming state elections on Aug. 18 for the primary and Nov. 3 for the general election.
“We want to make sure anyone who wants to vote is able to vote and is able to do it in the most comfortable fashion as possible and so that’s why we’re offering many different options or choices and a lot of these are the same choices people had at other elections but with some minor modifications, so we are going to encourage people to vote early,” said Meyer.
Meyer promoted the “Adopt a Precinct” campaign that he and the Division of Elections are rolling out to encourage members of the community to work on Election Day ensuring the safety and security of voters and ballots. Meyer said that each election worker will be equipped with proper personal protective equipment of face shields, masks, and gloves. The only difference voters that choose to vote in person will see is the abundant hand sanitizer, the wiping down of each pen in the polling places after use.
“A PTO or a PTA at a school could adopt a precinct and raise some money because we know that it’s harder now to get out and do fundraising in person like the Lt. Gov pointed out, so this is a good opportunity for those folks,” said Fenumiai.
Voters can also turn in their absentee by mail ballots into the early voting locations to save on paying postage for their ballot. Meyer said that over 170 early polling locations will be provided across Alaska and 441 polling places for in-person voters on election day. Meyer encouraged voters to wear a mask, and any person arriving at polling locations without a mask will be provided a face covering along with gloves.
“The hope is if and there’s going to be a big push through the media, through social media, through email to vote early, to vote absentee and then that way you won’t have the crowds that maybe you normally would see,” said Meyer.
With the concern over the spread of COVID-19 around Alaska during the global pandemic, the Division of Elections reached out to the Anchorage School District and Mat-Su Borough School District to ensure that schools would still be viable polling places on election days.
“We worked with the Anchorage School District and the Mat-Su school district which actually have the majority of our polling places in the state as schools and they have agreed to work with us to allow us to continue to use schools in light of covid, so we’re very happy that they’ve looked at us favorably and will let us continue to use those polling places,” said Fenumiai.
No changes have been made in the days that early and absentee voting can take place. Fenumiai said that the statutory limit is 15 days prior to Election Day and that the legislature would have had to have made a change to state statute to extend that for the 2020 election. Meyer explained the process for ballot initiatives to make their way onto the ballot and briefly named each of the ballot initiatives that will be on the general election ballot before Alaskan voters in November. Meyer also discussed his distrust of the sheer numbers of ballots required to conduct a vote-by-mail election in Alaska.
“That is one of my concerns of just mailing everybody two ballots in the primary is that there’s going to be a lot of unsecured ballots and I’m not going to accuse or say that any candidates would be tempted to maybe grab some of those ballots laying on the counter there at the post office, but sometimes you have over zealous campaign workers who might be tempted to do that,” said Meyer.
Fenumiai also answered questions about the possibility of hacking Alaska’s election equipment during election day, noting the robust security protocols in place for absentee ballots and in-person voting.
“We also have significant ballot accountability procedures in place. We have bipartisan boards at the polling places, we balance the number of people who sign the precinct registers to ballots cast at each precinct. The question and absentee review boards go through each and every ballot that is cast to determine the eligibility of voters. There are numerous checks and balances throughout the whole process,” said Fenumiai.
Femuniai noted that the previous high for absentee ballots turned in during one election cycle was 35,000. Election equipment is rigorously tested before and after each election to perform functionality tests and logic and accuracy tests. Fenumiai also said that the main election system is air-gapped and not connected to any other network. Though Meyer and Fenumiai are expecting a dramatic increase in absentee by mail ballots, election workers are still required at many polling places. With the most vulnerable population to COVID-19 being Alaska residents over 65 who are also often election workers, many polling places must hire new workers. Meyer said that at least three election workers are present at each polling place, but some larger precincts have more.
“We need a lot of people and in the past Gail and her staff have relied on some of the seniors that have more time on their hands, they’re probably retired and they made good workers and they wanted to help they wanted to help their community and they wanted so see their neighbors, but a lot of these people right now are reluctant to commit because they’re worried about the virus and the pandemic and they should be. If they are not comfortable we don’t want them to come out,” said Meyer.
Citizens with questions about absentee ballots or how to adopt a precinct can contact the Division of Elections at (907) 465-4511 or email email@example.com.