Win Gruening: Vote-by-mail doesn’t deliver, but does the Juneau Assembly care?

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The City and Borough of Juneau seems to be exempt from the fundamental principle that “measurement improves performance,” because, by any objective metric, their experiment with vote-by-mail has failed miserably.

Two weeks after Juneau’s second vote-by-mail municipal election concluded, election officials announced that 652 votes, an extraordinarily high number, were not counted. Over half of these votes were disallowed because they lacked postmarks – apparently because the US Postal Service failed to stamp them when mailed. The others were missing a signature or some other validating piece of information.

This development illustrates yet another problem with vote-by-mail. When relying on a third-party (USPS) to send out ballots and return them to be counted, the likelihood for mistakes is increased. In a conventional election, in-person voters are identified and their ballots are filled out at a local polling station, then immediately fed directly into a scanner and counted. Mistakes are routinely caught at the point of origin.

The Juneau Assembly has declined to address these concerns. Perhaps the Assembly believes that citizens who question the merits of vote-by-mail are partisan, un-American, and in favor of voter-suppression? Those accusations were made recently in an opinion piece in the Juneau Empire by Kim Metcalfe, who, as a former Alaska Democratic Party Executive Committee officer and Democrat Super-Delegate, whole-heartedly endorses vote-by-mail. 

In her op-ed, which was extremely critical of several carefully considered My Turns examining issues with vote-by-mail, Metcalfe alerts readers the My Turn writers are Republican and that vote-by-mail should be “applauded by people of all political persuasions rather than criticized and demeaned.”  

Metcalfe’s diatribe even draws comparisons of vote-by-mail concerns with what she describes as “discrimination against our Indigenous people” and “the  insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by members of the Republican Party to overthrow the 2020 presidential election!”

She defends mail-in voting by contending that “it gets more people to cast their votes.”

Except that it doesn’t.

It’s laudable to support efforts to increase voter turn-out – as long as such efforts actually achieve that. One would also expect the process would be efficient, and not overly cumbersome for voters. However, Juneau’s recent election experience, after sending unsolicited ballots to tens of thousands of voters, the majority of whom did not use them, failed to realize those goals. 

First implemented as a temporary measure in 2020 because of pandemic protocols, the Juneau Assembly steam-rolled permanent vote-by-mail through as a necessary expenditure with minimal public input. The Assembly justified the $1 million start-up costs by telling us that vote-by-mail increases voter turn-out. As evidence, city leaders pointed to last year’s election where voter turnout was 42.7%, a sharp increase over prior municipal elections. Voter turnout was 31.4% in 2019 and 35.5% in the 2018 municipal election.

However, a recent Stanford study debunks this theory, contending that a similar voting surge in 2020 across the nation had little to do with vote-by-mail.

Yet, Juneau vote-by-mail proponents took last year’s increase as proof-positive that vote-by-mail would boost voter turn-out.

As it turns out, that didn’t happen.

With 8,517 votes counted in the Juneau 2021 election, only 30.8% of registered voters cast ballots, 28% less than last year and lower than either 2019 or 2018 – two years when vote-by-mail was not used. 

This year, the city paid to print and mail out 27,684 ballots, over 18,000 of which ended up in post office waste receptacles, residential recycle bins, and the Juneau Landfill. 

What is the Assembly’s response? Radio silence.

This wasteful expense is concerning enough but taxpayers should take notice when, according to the city, the ongoing costs of conducting an election in the future could exceed $200,000 per year, triple the cost of a conventional election.

Juneau’s elected leaders need to come clean and admit that all the money being spent on VBM results in little benefit, only making it slightly more convenient for voters (assuming you don’t decide to drive to the post office and get your ballot hand cancelled to make sure it is counted). And this meager benefit mostly accrues to voters who would have otherwise voted anyway, either in person or by requesting an absentee ballot.

Furthermore, as I detailed in my column two weeks ago, the hacking of Alaska’s Online Voter Registration System along with vulnerabilities in vote-by-mail create opportunities for fraudulent ballots and “ballot harvesting” schemes that further undermine the public’s trust in our elections. 

Every invalid vote – whether through honest mistake, third-party carelessness, deliberate fraud, or partisan manipulation – disenfranchises a legitimate voter. The Juneau Assembly assured voters that their new election system guards against such problems and that above all, vote-by-mail would increase voter turnout.

Vote-by-mail did not deliver on that promise. It’s time for the Juneau Assembly to admit their mistake and rectify it.

After retiring as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in Alaska, Win Gruening began writing op-eds for local and statewide media. 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 and currently serves on the board of the Alaska Policy Forum.

15 COMMENTS

  1. But you can bet that in the union halls and on college campus every leftist vote was filled out. VBM only disenfranchises the unorganized factions of society-those who must spend their time working and raising their families.

    • Actually it’s the opposite. Voting by mail lets working parents to not be bound by lines on Election Day. Seems pretty obvious. Sorry you keep losing.

      • There are many ways people can vote without waiting in long lines. Early voting begins weeks prior to the election with short to no lines so virtually no wait. One can go during their lunch hour, on their way to work, or on their way home. I have done it for years. Mail in voting is full of error and opportunity for corruption and it is very ironic that those jurisdictions that foist it upon voters pretty quickly move left. Easy to tamper. Cases in point, Oregon, Anchorage. Juneau.

  2. As someone who’s traveled for work my entire life I’ve always voted absentee. It’s the only way I could vote on most years.

    • As have I, voting by verified early or verified absentee. Yes, it lets parents vote any time they want, or their 2 year old or 15 year old or anyone else who chooses to pull the ballots from the post office trash and complete them. I guess that only some of us care about honest elections and some of us only care about our agenda, honesty be damned. But that’s what progressivism is all about, isn’t it?.

    • Asking for and voting an absentee ballot is not the same as just sending out ballots Willy nilly so anyone can fill them out. Unless ballot signatures are verified the ballot should be thrown out. Absentee voting is the only acceptable vote by mail.

  3. I’ve spoken with Juneau’s City Clerk regarding vote by mail problems. She seemed dumbfounded when I mentioned that I received extra ballots by mail that were not mine, and that I saw many ballots on the counter and in the trash at the post office. I said, “what’s to stop me, or someone else, from sending in extra ballots?” She said if the results are close, they can compare signatures. Now we find out that hundreds of votes won’t even count because the post office didn’t stamp them with a postmark… This is absolutely ridiculous. CBJ needs to return to traditional voting by precinct with absentee ballots by request. Anyone in Juneau can get to their precinct or request an absentee ballot. Spending $700,000 for a less accurate and less secure election is preposterous. Can we referendum this? Or fix the city code by ballot? (at this point, we can’t even trust the election process!)

  4. Voting by mail is a demonstrably stupid idea for any number of reasons. But leftist partisan hacks vehemently defend it because they know that they, lacking all ethics and determined to win at ANY cost and by any means necessary, can use its opaqueness and complexity against those who are not similarly willing to cheat, lie, and steal in order to win and hold political office.

  5. The Assembly has what they wanted: control over the most basic part of the election process. The fact it doesn’t work is of no concern to them.

    Still wanna peddle this nonsense Alaska is a conservative state?

  6. Their stated objectives for mail in ballots were not met. These objectives were used to spend your money. To continue to spend your money using failed objectives is unethical. The only reason someone would do this is if they had other unstated objectives, which is also unethical.

  7. So, how many ballots were thrown out at the recent recall election due to “mismatched” signatures? I doubt all of these were rectified. So not allowing voting in person is taking away some peoples’ right to vote, even discounting the postmark issue.

    • ‘So, how many ballots were thrown out at the recent recall election due to “mismatched” signatures?’
      However many it took for the election judges to assure their preferred candidate victory. I highly recommend reading The Federalist article: 7 Insane Things I Just Learned About How U.S. Elections Are ‘Rigged’
      I personally participated in some of these shenanigans as a child of then democratic activists. Things like ‘helping’ the all-democrat poll watchers; things like visiting the nursing homes and ‘helping’ the invalid to vote and delivering their votes to the polls (Wisconsin yesterday revealed the investigation of tens of thousands of votes illegally cast this way in 2020).
      Many actions I have seen over my lifetime and personally participated in before realizing how wrong it was and how it invalidated the sanctity of free and fair elections. One person, one valid true vote will return us to government of the people, by the people instead of tyranny of the organized by the criminal mob.

  8. So Win, what is the next step? The left appears to be happy to bring a gun to a fist fight. Logic and sweet reason appear futile in support of ‘one person, one vote’. All we ask is that everyone have the opportunity to vote and that vote be counted – verifiably. Assembly person Bonnet Hale stated a permanent shift to VBM depended on a high turnout, which has not happened. We shall not now go quietly into the night.

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