How to vote in Alaska this year

Early voting started on Monday, Oct. 19th, in Alaska, and more than 35,000 Alaskans have already returned their absentee ballots. For those who haven’t cast their ballots, here’s a quick guide on how to vote this year. 

Listen to Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove’s interview with Andrew Kitchenman:

Q: How many different ways can Alaskans vote? 

There are three main ways: absentee, early in person, and in person on Election Day. 

Q: Is it too late to apply to vote absentee?  

No, but time is running out. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Saturday, Oct. 24. The state Division of Elections must receive the application by then, so Alaskans who want to apply by mail should send in their applications as soon as possible. But Alaskans with a driver’s license or state-issued ID can apply online through Saturday. 

Q: With the COVID-19 pandemic happening, how many more people are planning to vote absentee? 

Many more than in any previous year. There have been 120,419 applications so far, equal to more than a third of the total number of votes cast in Alaska in the last presidential election. And the absentee ballots already returned equal roughly 10% of the 2016 total statewide vote. 

Q: Is there anything different about the absentee ballots? 

The ballots are identical to those for voters casting ballots in person. Absentee voters must sign the envelope provided with the ballot and provide a personal identifier — either their voter number, driver’s license number, date of birth or the last four digits of their Social Security number. 

Q: Do absentee voters need a witness? 

No, not this year. A judge ruled that absentee voting witnessing is not required due to concerns about the pandemic. The Alaska Supreme Court allowed that decision to stand. But voters must still sign and provide the personal identifier on the envelope. 

Q: Will voters have a chance to correct a mistake if they fail to sign and provide an identifier on their envelope? 

No. While municipal elections in Anchorage and Juneau allow voters to fix mistakes, state law doesn’t provide for this. A lawsuit was filed to try to allow this, but a judge ruled against it. Voters will be notified if their absentee ballot was rejected within 60 days of the elections results being certified. Since the target for certifying the results is Nov. 25, this will be in late January 2021. 

Q: What’s the deadline for mailing an absentee ballot? 

The envelope must be postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3. Voters can ask at their post office for their envelopes to be postmarked in person. If they don’t do this, the U.S. Postal Service sends mail across Alaska to Anchorage to be postmarked. So on or the day before Election Day, voters should ask a postal clerk to postmark the envelope. 

Q: What’s different about early voting? 

It’s a lot like voting on Election Day, but done in the 15 days before the election. A trained election worker at an early voting location has a voter sign their name and provides a ballot. 

Q: When and where can Alaskans do early voting? 

There’s a list of locations on the Division of Elections website, which also includes the days and times at each location. 

Q: How is COVID-19 changing the election? 

There will be more safety precautions at polling locations, including keeping voting booths further apart for social distancing. Since more voters plan to vote absentee, it will be longer before the results are known. 

Q: The Division of Elections had problems finding poll workers in seven rural precincts in the primary election. Has that been fixed for the general election? 

Division Director Gail Fenumiai said there is at least one election worker for each precinct. But the state is still looking for more workers in northern, western and southwestern Alaska. If there are shortages on Election Day, voters will be asked to fill out absentee ballots in person on Election Day, so their votes will still count. The division also has worked to fix a problem that prevented many voters in Mertarvik from voting in the primary. They will vote using absentee ballots on Election Day.

Q: Is there assistance for voters in languages other than English? 

Yes. There is assistance available in several Alaska Native languages, as well as in Spanish and Filipino. 

Q: How can Alaskans learn more about the candidates and ballot measures this year? 

Alaska Public Media is hosting debates between the U.S. House candidates on Thursday, Oct. 22nd, and the U.S. Senate candidates on Friday, Oct. 23rd. In addition, Alaska Public Media and KTOO hosted debates in eight of the 39 legislative races that have more than one candidate, which are available online.

These news stories can help voters understand Ballot Measure 1 and Ballot Measure 2.

Q: This article didn’t answer a question I had about how to vote. Where can I learn more? 

Visit KTOO’s election information page for election-related news and a growing list of frequently asked questions. The Division of Elections website also has more detailed information about how to vote. 

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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