Voters in 6 villages will have no polling places for Alaska’s primary election

The polls will open Oct. 1 for Unalaska's municipal election. (Photo by Laura Kraegel/KUCB)
A polling place in Unalaska during a municipal election. (Photo by Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

A shortage of poll workers caused the state Division of Elections to close polling places in a half-dozen small Alaska communities for Tuesday’s primary election.

A spokesperson said despite raising the hourly rate for the temporary workers, the division was unable to overcome fears about the spread of coronavirus.

Elections officials made the announcement late Monday, a little more than 12 hours before polls opened, that there would only be absentee in-person voting in the communities of Arctic Village, Port Lions, Kake, Takotna, Cold Bay and Nunam Iqua.

Calls to the Arctic Village city offices went unanswered, but officials in the other five communities contacted Tuesday reported no problems resulting from the change. Elections officials said voting in the six communities is being conducted either in the tribal or municipal offices, except in Cold Bay, where the Division of Elections did not specify a location.

According to Division of Elections Public Relations Manager Tiffany Montemayor, the biggest difference is that the precincts did not have ballot scanners, so those ballots will not be immediately counted.

“You know, they still have to show identification, they still need to provide the same information that they would provide if they were voting at a polling place,” Montemayor said. “So everything is the same. The only difference is those ballots will be counted with the absentee ballots that are mailed in.”

The first count of absentee ballots happens a week after the election, on Aug. 25, and the division accepts the mailed-in ballots for another three days after that. And while in years past election watchers would look closely at the election night tally, Montemayor said the trend toward more people casting absentee ballots has meant those unofficial results on election night are less reliable in determining winners and losers.

In fact, Montemayor said, the state issued nearly 54,000 absentee mail-in ballots, an all-time high, and has already received back more than 29,000 of them.

“I know a lot of people are worried about their ballots reaching us, so for us to have more than half of them already here, that’s really great,” Montemayor said.

The division expects more applications for mail-in absentee ballots for the general election in November, she said.