In person or by mail, Tuesday is election day in Juneau

Sarah Braun votes while her daughter Hattie Braun watches during municipal election day on Tuesday, Oct. 5 in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Tuesday is the last day to vote in Juneau’s local election and despite widespread early voting options, people from all over town headed to the polls to cast their votes. 

Five people are running for two seats on the Assembly, Mayor Beth Weldon is running unopposed and eight people are running for three seats on Juneau’s school board. 

There was a slow but steady trickle of people at the Mendenhall Library — some voting in person and many others showing up to drop their completed ballots off. 

“I ruined my write-in ballot,” said Juneau resident Judy Ripley. “I live close by so instead of going through the process of getting a new one, I decided to just vote in person.”

She said she thought about mailing her ballot this year, but prefers to vote in person. 

“It just feels more secure,” she said. 

Ripley said that while she doesn’t necessarily like the by-mail election, she thinks it’s a good idea to have the vote centers remain open for weeks. 

Corbin Austin said he liked the new by-mail election and hopes it continues after the pandemic has ended. 

“Just to make voting more accessible,” he said.  “Everyone should be able to vote. There’s a lot of people who probably won’t make it out to the polls with any other option —  because voting is not a national holiday, and will need time off work to vote.”

Last year, more than 40% of Juneau’s registered voters voted in the first by-mail election. It was the best turnout a local election had seen in decades. 

Jack Chenoweth, the chief election worker at the Mendenhall Library Vote Center said he suspects the by-mail election is drawing more people out to vote — especially because it doesn’t cram all of the voting into one day.

“They have a ballot at home at the dining room table, they can think about it,” he said. “I think it’s tending toward getting more people. We’ll see. This election will determine whether last year’s was a one-off or whether this is a trend.”

Chenoweth has been working at polling locations since he retired, a little over a decade ago. He said one thing he’s noticed about the by-mail election is that people are sometimes confused about where to leave their ballots. 

“Last year we had one, one or two in the library book drop, and this year, we had a couple show up in the mailbox, which is around the corner,” he said. “I don’t know if those were people who came after hours and just got frustrated or what, but the next day the library and staff brought them in and we just treated them as any other ballot.”

One woman turned to her companion at a nearby voting booth and said she really didn’t like the idea that the ballots had to be taken to Anchorage for processing. Chenoweth said he’s heard that from a number of people. 

Juneau’s Assembly decided to put some money into turning a city-owned warehouse into a local ballot processing center. 

“If they decide to stick with the mail-in arrangements, then people will have more confidence, I think, that the ballots are being well-handled here in town,” he said. “I think it will allay some of the suspicion about the ballots being moved out of town.” 

One school board candidate, Thom Buzard, showed up to vote unmasked. There’s a container of surgical masks by the front door, but Chenoweth said they won’t turn anyone away. He said just a few people have shown up unmasked. 

Lots of voters passed through at lunch hour to drop their ballots off at Auke Bay-Statter Harbor. 

Emily Thompson said she’s meant to mail her ballot in for weeks, but she ended up dropping it off in person.

“I’m hoping that a lot of people get out and vote. It’s such an important thing to get out and make a choice and feel like ‘I’m part of this,’ instead of things being done to us,” she said.”So this is my opportunity to make a choice and even if it doesn’t go the way I want, I know I tried. I made a choice.”

Jake Jacoby says he always tries to vote, but the local school board election especially drew him to the ballot drop-off box — he’s a high school teacher at Thunder Mountain High School.

“Especially this current election, school board, it affects my everyday life. They’re going to be making decisions on what happens at my school,” he said. 

At City Hall, election worker Nora Laughlin, said she’s seen steady numbers of people all day too.  

Laughlin’s been an election worker for years. In the past she’s worked in Lemon Creek, but with only two vote centers open this year, she’s at City Hall with a few other workers who have been regular fixtures there. 

“And as locals they know everybody in the door and they’re laughing and having a good time seeing old friends that they don’t see often.”

Election centers and ballot drop boxes close at 8 p.m. Like last year, all ballots will be sent to Anchorage where election workers will process them. The city crew tasked with counting the ballots is headed to Anchorage on Thursday. 

That means preliminary results won’t be available on election night, but could be out as early as Friday or Monday. 

This story will be updated.

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