With a little help, Juneau voters are getting the hang of ranked choice voting

Jo Schoeppe helps voters verify their ballots through the Ballot Cyon Machine at Mendenhall Library on Aug. 16, 2022 in Juneau. (Photo By Paige Sparks/KTOO)

Two years after Alaskans voted on a new way to do elections, ranked choice voting made its debut in the special election to fill the vacancy left in Congress when Don Young died.

Poll workers across the City and Borough of Juneau said they felt prepared to help voters navigate both ranked choice voting and the open primary on the other side of the ballot. 

At the Mendenhall Valley Library, volunteer Vivian Bearden said it wasn’t the ranked choice side of the ballot that was giving people trouble. It was the pick-one primary.

“The Don Young vacancy is really confusing,” she said. “I’ve never seen a ballot with that many candidates.”

There are 22 candidates for U.S. Representative.

At Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall, Juneau voter Portland Highbaugh said she had no problem with the ballot.

“I don’t understand why people think it’s so complicated, honestly,” she said.

She works for the Alaska Municipal League, which supports local governments around the state, so she said she was really informed about both sides of the ballot.

“It’s a pick one primary. So you pick one,” she said. “It’s the same thing we’ve been doing as long as we’ve been voting.”

Portland Highbaugh stands outside Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall after casting her vote on Aug. 16, 2022 in Juneau. (Photo By Paige Sparks/KTOO)

Volunteer Jo Schoeppe was helping people at the library feed their ballots into the voting machine. She asked voters for permission before helping to feed their ballots in, without looking at who they voted for.

“The machine is a little touchy sometimes,” she said. “I feel like I’m being controlling.”

The voting machines are programmed to read both sides of the ballot. When a ballot got rejected, the machine would say which side of the ballot had the problem.

Schoeppe said the most common rejection was for people who only voted for one candidate on the ranked choice ballot. It’s a valid way to vote, but she’d ask if people were sure they didn’t want to rank the rest. 

People did make mistakes, though. Like picking a first choice but skipping second and third, then filling in a fourth. 

“That’s improper,” she said. “And so we return it. They rip it and bring it back.”

Those voters would get a new, questioned ballot and re-do their ballot, which would go in a special locked tote to be tallied by hand.

Preliminary results from this election will be available after polls close, but it will be at least two more weeks until all the ballots are counted and official results come out.

Jennifer Pemberton

Managing Editor, KTOO

I bring stories from the community into the KTOO newsroom so that all of our reporting matters. I want to hear my community’s struggles and its wins reflected in our coverage. Does our reporting reflect your experience in Juneau?

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