Win Gruening: Election alternative for Juneau — more transparency, choice

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By WIN GRUENING

While the City Clerk’s office has done a creditable job conducting Juneau’s recent municipal election, many residents are expressing dissatisfaction with the current vote-by-mail (VBM) system.

When the Assembly unilaterally imposed VBM on Juneau’s electorate, it was justified as an improvement over traditional voting that would expand voting choices, make it easier to vote, and increase turnout. 

In fact, it has done just the opposite. Voters have been deprived of the choice to personally insert their anonymous ballot in a vote-counting machine the way they always have – in their neighborhood precincts on Election Day or through in-person early voting.

Over a week has passed since Juneau’s municipal election concluded and an unspecified number of votes are still outstanding.

The problem is, when over 27,000 unsolicited ballots are mailed to every registered voter, no one knows how many will be returned. So it’s impossible to know how many ballots remain uncounted until the election is certified weeks later. 

Considering that several Juneau Assembly races were competitive and the Assembly waged a $50,000 advocacy campaign in favor of a controversial ballot proposition to partially fund a new city hall, 2023 voter turnout has been mediocre. To date, turnout only exceeds last year’s election by 101 votes. Almost 400 fewer votes have been cast than in 2018 when there were no propositions on the ballot and before VBM was implemented.

Furthermore, compared to traditional precinct voting, the so-called “convenience” of VBM is a mirage when voters must deal with additional confusing paperwork and forms, the U.S. Postal Service, and the limited number of voting centers (two) or drop boxes (two). 

Yet, increased turnout and convenience were the primary reasons the Assembly decided to spend almost a million dollars in the first year implementing the system and several hundred thousand dollars more each year to run it.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In a recent Juneau Empire My Turn, Rich Moniak promoted the idea of more choice in voting when quoting the managing director of the Brennan Center for Justice. The director wrote that election officials should “ensure that anyone who has the right to vote can exercise that right as simply and safely as possible. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue but a patriotic duty. Vote by mail is just one option among many to accomplish that goal.”

If the Juneau Assembly thinks it’s important to be responsive to voters and increase transparency, then they will prove it by conducting an objective evaluation of the community’s 4-year experience with VBM and consider additional options based on the results. 

First, the City Clerk’s office should compile a comparison of all the voting statistics from the last five years. This data should include election costs and when, where, and how people voted. How many voters actually mailed their ballot in, for instance, as opposed to dropping it off?. How many ballots had to be “cured” and how many were simply invalidated? This kind of transparency and accountability is absolutely essential to achieve a meaningful analysis in order to evaluate the efficacy of VBM. 

 Some states that considered vote-by-mail systems have opted for a hybrid system that allows voters to “opt-in” to have ballots mailed to them but still preserved precinct voting for those that preferred to keep voting in-person on Election Day. Voters could sign up once for all future elections or just once if they knew they couldn’t vote in-person on Election Day. There is no reason the City and Borough of Juneau couldn’t consider a similar system. 

A hybrid system would be beneficial in a number of ways: 

  • It would save thousands of dollars in printing and mailing costs since ballots would only be mailed to voters who requested them. Some of the savings could be used to pay staff and operate precinct voting stations on Election Day. 
  • It minimizes the potential for “ballot harvesting”, a political tool that can easily lend itself to abuse and has been outlawed in some states. 
  • Finally, and most importantly, it restores choice to the majority of voters who want to continue to vote-in-person.

Vote-by-mail is not a choice if it’s the only choice. 

After retiring as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in Alaska, Win Gruening became a regular opinion page columnist for the Juneau Empire. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is involved in various local and statewide organizations.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Consider the US Postal Service in this equation. The US Postal Service, like many private businesses, have suffered in retaining and obtaining new workers. The efficiency of the US mail has dropped since 2020 Covid. But more importantly, the US Postal Services looses between .5% to 3% of the mail annually. It’s hard to nail down how much is lost since oftentimes the receiver doesn’t know the mail is lost. Considering this statistic, one can see that if betwen .5% to 3% of ballots are lost in the mail that could swing the vote in any way. Mail in voting is not an efficient way to run an election.

  2. Voting-by-mail was clearly instituted by radical leftists, who have NO qualms about cheating and rigging the system to their advantage at every opportunity, to make the voting system more intermediated, more opaque, and more open to their manipulations. Every other excuse for it is a feeble and laughable rationalization.

  3. You’re a smart man Win. You know good and well as long as we keep electing the people we elect, nothing will change.

    As you pointed out, many races were close. It’s not in the Faux Junta’s interest to get rid of VBM.

    The way to get what you want is for the conservative minority to find common cause with the not crazy democrats. Learn to use VBM better than they do, it’ll get dropped like a bad habit.

  4. No tabulation machines. No to vote by mail. Rescind ranked choice voting. Vote in person on Election Day and the votes must be hand tabulated as witnessed by both parties.

    • Neil,
      Hand counting is not very feasible for many communities. It requires a lot of people (paid by the municipality, not by a third party aligned with a polictical party). It has been proven again and again that humans are not good at rote tasks such as looking at a piece of paper with lots of marks and marking down separately what was noted for only one of the marks (each issue on the ballot needs to be hand counted individually, you don’t do the entire ballot at once). The human error is very high. And how do I know that there isn’t a person counting that is throwing or changing my vote for something they don’t agree with?

      Machine tabulation is much more efficient and accurate and don’t cost as much money. The elections officials should be doing spot checks on the machines. This involves taking a subset of the ballots and running them through a machine and then hand counting them (with multiple people counting the same ballots to account for that large human error factor).

  5. But the question remains, how do we get rid of it. The powers that be seem unwilling to change it, even though it was enacted without a vote. Covid is over, at least for the moment.

  6. In the next National Election, State and Local Elections too, we will have a “choice” between:
    … Good & Bad
    … Right & Wrong
    … Truth & Denial
    … Righteous & Evil
    … Prosperity & Poverty
    It’s imperative we choose wisely!

  7. 9000ballots x 15secs/ballot = 135,000seconds to count ballots.
    135,000seconds/60 = 2,250minutes to count ballots.
    2,250minutes/60 = 37.5manhours to count ballots.
    37.5manhours/5 = 7.5crewhours to count ballots (5man crew)
    Add a supervisor; 5+1=6man crew
    6men x 7.5hrs = 45manhours total.
    45manhours x $75/hour = $3,375 total labor cost to count ballots.
    Multiply by 2 to pacify critics: 3,375 x 2 = total adjusted labor cost = $6,750
    Give me the contract to count ballots for $15,000; I’ll have it done by hand in 7.5hrs.
    The Borough would save the cost of counting machines etc. Your welcome.

    • Wayne, allowing you, the voice of Opposition to Tyranny to count the ballots? Seriously? No Wayne, that will never do, the mumbo jumbo might actually be exposed for what it really is.

  8. Two Comments:
    Elections have consequences….and fraudulent elections have dire consequences.

    This vote by mail system was put in place to get specific outcomes, not to improve voting access.

    Excellent piece as usual Win, Thank you.

  9. Which is why the seat of government should always remain in the inaccessible except by acceptable international lobbyists only to the idyll of Juneau.

  10. Why should you idyllists be bothered by what’s going on in AK at large so to speak telephonically or otherwise? And, what did the Juneau Represenatives say sweetly to the wireless lobbyists of yesteryear after a particularly pleasing salmon dinner?

  11. A. “We can’t tell you how to run your business” is what they said to telecommunications. Ever after, “service” is comparable to that in Ghana. Thank you very much. Very Pontius Pilate-esque tho.

  12. Mailed ballots increases the access for citizens to engage in the voting process. If the response was low, that is up to the community and political leaders to “get out the vote” efforts. Across the nation, less than 30% of the voting population votes in any given election (presidental elections do tend to drive higher turnout).
    Guarenteed, if more people voted and it didn’t go the way Republicans wanted, they would be saying “voter fraud.” Now they are just saying mailed ballots limits the ability for voting…
    There is no evidence of ballot harvesting in Juneau so that is a false flag to condemn the vote for something you didn’t vote for.
    The article made a point that there are only 2 dropboxes and 2 precincts, thereby limiting the voting opportunity. This is a result of people saying that dropboxes are not secure (false) and forcing the city to close them.
    People can still take their ballot and drop it off at a precinct (that is how I voted). Only difference is I signed the envelope instead of the in person register. I still had to provide my identification number.
    The thing I had issue with was the CBJ not paying the postage for mailing the envelope back, they should have a bar code that charges only when scanned.
    I am concerned about relying on the USPS to deliver the ballots in a timely fashion. This emphasizes the need for other delivery methods to get the votes to the election officials.

  13. I frequently receive neighbors mail as delivered by the diligent, hardworking USPS contractor. I don’t know who the contractor is. I haven’t read his contract. I can’t deliver the neighbor’s mail, a stranger, to his mail box and it is precipitating. Should I throw his ballot materials into the puddle forming in front of his house? I don’t know the guys name and he is as unfriendly as I am. This happens everywhere. I was taking public transportation one day. The wind was howling and it was sleeting. The USPS driver door parked in front large of a building. The driver was nowhere around. There were many large specially packaged envelopes lying in the street, as the bus drove past more evelopes flew out. So yeah. Mail voting best and has the most “kindness” quotiant as reasoning bystanders can easily see; correct and much smarter than I democrats? Why don’t you run the whirled.

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