Juneau conducted its local elections in October via vote-by-mail. It was the community’s pubic health response to Pandemic 2020.
To make the switch from precinct-centered elections, the City and Borough of Juneau contracted with the Municipality of Anchorage’s Election Division. Anchorage has had a vote-by-mail system since 2018, the first city in Alaska to run its elections almost solely by mail.
This year, the Juneau Assembly is thinking about establishing vote-by-mail as the standard going forward. The next local election is Oct. 5, and voters will choose the next mayor. Also, Assembly member Loren Jones is finishing his third term and he can’t run again due to term limits, and Assembly member Michele Bonnet Hale is finishing her first term; her seat will also be on the ballot. There may be bonds and ballot initiatives as well.
The mail-in election last year cost Juneau $175,000, 56 percent higher than a typical municipal election in Juneau, which averages $98,000. While 27,789 ballots were mailed, 11,836 were returned, 42 percent.
With a city that only has about 31,970 residents, 27,789 is a beefy number of ballots printed. It would indicate there are only 4,181 residents under the age of 18 in Juneau. With 4,648 students enrolled in Juneau public schools, there appeared to be a generous number of extra ballots in that election; certainly, anyone who wanted to vote could do so.
Other critics say that any change to the way voting has been done in the past needs to include more public input. There’s no health emergency that would necessitate mail-in voting this year.
Election integrity is a concern. Many in Anchorage have reported ballots being sent to nonresidents in other states, years after those people had moved from Anchorage. Voters say they don’t understand why voters are not cleared from the voting rolls after they move away and are voting in other jurisdictions.
Last year, the Kenai’s Borough Assembly voted to switch to vote-by-mail, a move that was vetoed by Mayor Charlie Pierce. His veto was quickly overridden by the Assembly.
The matter ended when citizens got a petition going and were able to reverse the decision via the ballot box.
The regular Juneau Assembly meeting starts at 7 pm Monday, is conducted via Zoom teleconference, and can be watched at this link.