Juneau election officials fly to Anchorage with luggage full of ballots

Lacey Davis follows City Clerk Beth McEwen as the two roll the last two boxes of ballots from Juneau’s local election in for a security check at on Thursday, October 8, 2020, in Juneau, Alaska. Davis and McEwen are headed to Anchorage to process ballots in the city’s first by-mail election. Preliminary results should be out by Friday. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Voting in Juneau’s first by-mail municipal election ended Tuesday, but results aren’t expected until Friday around 5 p.m.  

Local election officials and ballots arrived in Anchorage on Thursday. Thousands more ballots already  arrived by mail at the Anchorage Vote Center, where results processing will take place. 

City Clerk Beth McEwen arrived in Anchorage with more than a thousand ballots in tow. 

Along with assistant Lacey Davis, she caught the afternoon flight out of Juneau. They checked two large, blue cases of ballots. 

In the car rental lobby at Ted Stevens International Airport, McEwen said they had a relaxing flight. 

“It was perfect. I even got a few minutes of nap,” she said. “Sleep of all kinds has been very rare in the last few weeks.”

Voting in Juneau’s local election began last month, but the work has been going on since May. 

On McEwen’s recommendation, Juneau decided to have this year’s local election to take place by mail. The clerk’s office set about completely re-envisioning how to run an election safely during a pandemic. 

About 27,000 ballots were mailed out to registered voters in September. More than 11,000 have made their way back so far, and they’re still arriving by mail. So far, this election has seen Juneau’s best voter turnout in 20 years

Now, it’s time to process the results. Ballot envelope sorting is already underway at the Anchorage Vote Center, where McEwen and Davis were headed directly from the airport.

“We’re going to load up the rental car with the ballot boxes, and then we’re going to head to the Anchorage election center,” McEwen said. “We’re going to check in…[and] see where they’re at in the processing, and make sure the ballots are secure and locked up into the secure area, and then have a game plan for starting first thing in the morning.”

Juneau’s ballots have never been processed outside of the city before.

Juneau City Clerk Beth McEwen and Administrative Assistant Lacey Davis arrived at the Ted Stevens International Airport Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020 with two cases of voted ballots from Juneau’s municipal election. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

The Anchorage Vote Center is large enough to have space for social distancing, and it has equipment specially designed to process ballot envelopes and verify voter signatures. 

“So pretty much all of their equipment we don’t have available, because it is different. They have an envelope sorter, where it’s going to take that unique barcode that every voter has … It’ll take a picture of that barcode along with the picture of their signature,” McEwen said. “And then that’ll go on to another computer system that actually has pictures of signatures from the state Division of Elections, and we’ll be comparing those side by side. Humans will be doing the comparison, it’s not computer comparison.”

She said the city does plan to buy some of the equipment Anchorage has, like ballot scanners. The money has already been set aside for that. But there wasn’t enough time to buy them and set them up before the election. 

“Once they’re scanned, then they’re what’s called ‘adjudicated’: if there’s any over votes or under votes or any of that — anomalies on the ballot — then that’s my part of the process,” McEwen said. “I’ll be reviewing each one of those ballots for any anomalies.”

McEwen expects to officially certify the election Oct. 20. That’s when voters will know the final outcome of three Assembly races and two ballot propositions. 

The new Assembly members will be sworn in Oct. 26.

Those preliminary election results will be posted on the city’s website and ktoo.org/elections once they’re available

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