(This story has been corrected from original version on Jan. 6)
KTOO in Juneau is reporting that one out of every 12 ballots cast by Juneauites in its mail-in-only election in October were rejected. They didn’t count.
Some of those mailed ballots arrived too late, while others arrived late, but with no postal cancellation mark that would prove they were mailed on time. Still others had voter signatures that were not accepted by the ballot counters in Anchorage.
In October, Must Read Alaska reported that one out of 50 ballots had been rejected in the Juneau local election.
But since then, more ballots have trickled in to the Anchorage Election Office. Juneau contracted with the Anchorage Municipal Clerk to do the counting because Juneau’s Assembly didn’t want in-person voting due to the Covid pandemic. The number of rejected ballots is now over 700 ballots.
Anchorage’s municipal election in March and April had a high number of rejected ballots as well. The problem of rejected ballots didn’t exist when people voted in person, but is a growing concern, with numerous people reporting that they tried to “cure” their ballots but that their signature was rejected twice by the vote counters at the Anchorage Elections Office.
Arguably, the Juneau voting disaster is the worst public relations snafu for any election in Alaska history in terms of voter confidence.
There are 27,684 registered voters in Juneau, according to the City Clerk’s office, and that is in a city of 32,255 people. With 8,517 voting in October, turnout was at about 31 percent. Voters were choosing a mayor (an uncontested race), two Assembly members, three school board members, and deciding whether to extend a 3 percent sales tax. None of the race results would have changed if those 700 ballots had been counted.
The Juneau Assembly has voted to spend $700,000 on a vote-counting facility so that the city can keep doing vote-by-mail. For the past two elections, it has had all of the ballots sent to the Anchorage Municipal Clerk’s Office, which has a vote-counting facility with a checkered history.
Beth McEwen, Juneau City Clerk, explained to voters how the voting would work in this YouTube video:
In October, KINY news reported that Assemblywoman Carole Triem was happy with the new vote-by-mail system, and that she thought the election went well.
Asked on Action Line how she thought the new voting process has worked for Juneau, she said, “I think it’s going well. I’m glad we have made a decision on what we’ll do moving forward. Obviously this year was another kind of interim year where we’re counting on the Anchorage muni to help us out but next year we’ll have it all self contained here in Juneau. We’ll be able to control the process from start to finish.”
Triem told listeners she was convinced to support going to by mail elections on a permanent basis and supporting the funding to do so because of the increased turnout that occurred in last year’s initial by mail balloting.
The Juneau chapter of the League of Women Voters also supported the mail-in-only system and the use of the Anchorage Election Office as a bridge to managing the count locally.
Marjorie Menzi of the League of Women Voters told the Assembly in September that “The league believes that success is identified in a democracy by citizen participation. We consider voting by mail a success in Juneau. Voting by mail is a secure and fraud-free method of voting. … Providing adequate funding for our most fundamental right seems a reasonable expenditure of public dollars,” according to a previous radio report.