Monday is the start of early voting in Juneau’s municipal election. Instead of heading to the polls, registered voters should have received a ballot in their mailbox.
Juneau’s election officials started thinking about the safest way to conduct this year’s Oct. 6 election soon after the COVID-19 pandemic came to Alaska. Many poll workers and election staff are older and more at risk for complications from the disease.
City Clerk Beth McEwen was looking around the country at what other municipalities were doing. Anchorage was holding its regular by-mail election at the time. So, she reached out.
“They very graciously offered to let us use their 10,000 square foot facility with their by-mail election processing equipment,” McEwen said this week.
The Juneau Assembly approved holding the local election by mail in May.
That set off months of work for the clerk’s office and a flurry of emergency ordinances allowing the city to meet deadlines for voter propositions and candidate filings before the ballots had to be sent to the printer in Washington state.
Every registered voter in Juneau should receive a ballot at their permanent address. The ballots went out Sept. 15 and started arriving in Juneau mailboxes two days later.
“If you haven’t received a ballot within a three-to-five day period after the fifteenth of September, please do contact our election hotline, which is 364-7401,” McEwen said.
Each ballot packet contains a ballot, secrecy sleeve, return envelope and instructions. Voters will decide between three Assembly seats, two Juneau School Board seats and two ballot propositions.
Once you get your ballot, here’s how it works: Pick your assembly and school board candidates, and vote on the two ballot propositions. Then, stick the ballot in the security sleeve, and seal it in the return envelope.
There are three options for returning your voted ballot:
- You can return your completed ballot by mail with a stamp. Note that it has to be postmarked by Oct. 6.
- You can leave it in the big, white dropboxes outside the Douglas Library and in the Statter Harbor parking lot by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
- You can bring your completed ballot to a vote center at City Hall or the Mendenhall Valley Library. They’ll be open starting Monday until Oct. 6.
“If you need to vote in person, if for some reason you didn’t receive a ballot or you just want to just bring your voted ballot in and have one of our vote center staff members be your witness on your ballot envelope — that would be another opportunity to come into the vote center,” McEwen said.
Each return envelope has a line requiring a signature from a witness 18-years or older. But an emergency ordinance passed by the Assembly at its meeting Monday waived that requirement for this year’s election. Voter signatures will still have to be verified before the ballot is counted.
Election night will also look different this year. Usually, candidates gather at City Hall to watch results come in. Instead, McEwen will gather up the ballots and get on a plane.
“I’m going to physically take those on an airplane with me and another worker and we’re going to go up to Anchorage and process those with the Anchorage vote center,” she said.
That means the earliest we’ll know election results is Oct. 9. Those results will still be unofficial until Oct. 20, when election certification should take place.
It will be interesting to see how this year’s by-mail election affects voter turnout. Anchorage saw record turnout when it held its first by-mail election in 2018.
In 2019, fewer than 32% of registered voters in Juneau voted in the local election.
Some people may miss the communal parts of voting this year, like treats at the Douglas precinct or parents bringing their kids into the booths with them. But those who love to proudly wear their “I voted” stickers on Election Day don’t have to worry — the mailed ballots come with one.
And you can wear it as long as you like.
This story has been updated to reflect changes to the signature requirement on local ballots.