Juneau’s new ballot processing center is up and running

Beth McEwen, Municupal Clerk, leads visitors on a tour of Juneau’s new ballot counting center on Sept. 12, 2022. (Photo by Paige Sparks/KTOO)

For the past two municipal elections, Juneau’s city clerk had to fly to Anchorage with all of the city’s ballots to use the vote-counting equipment there. 

Now, just in time for the local election on Oct. 4, Juneau has opened its own ballot processing center. Ballots were mailed on Tuesday.

“It’s all being done in house versus having to have our staff travel up there and the expense of sending everything,” said Jessica DeBartolow, who works in the clerk’s office. “So it’s a little easier just to do it here.”

On Monday, City Clerk Beth McEwen gave tours of the facility off Thane Road, near the Rock Dump. 

Now that the ballots have been sent out, visitors will have to put their phones or other recording equipment into a locker. There are security cameras trained on everything in the room. And in the waiting room, there’s a screen with all the feeds from those cameras. 

Deputy Clerk Diane Cathcart escorts visitors on a tour of Juneau’s new ballot counting center on Sept. 12, 2022. (Photo by Paige Sparks/KTOO)

Every part of the process, from envelope opening to counting the vote, is recorded so the public can watch.

“Anybody who is coming to observe the process, if they’re sitting out here, they can watch the security cameras and what all the election workers are doing inside,” McEwen said. 

The cameras serve the same purpose as in-person poll monitors in traditional elections.  

The center will have a screen dedicated to the adjudication process, which happens when there is an issue with a ballot that needs human eyes — like if someone filled in two bubbles and crossed out one. 

“We’re going to be having a really big screen TV so that anyone sitting out in our entry area here can actually see that adjudication taking place in real time,” McEwen said. 

Juneau’s first by-mail election, in 2020, had record turnout. Eleven thousand ballots were returned, which was more than 40% of registered voters. The city decided then that it would be worth opening its own ballot processing center. 

Early voting starts on Sept. 19. Once the ballot processing starts, anyone interested in observing can contact the city clerk’s office. The city is still looking for election workers, as well

Yvonne Krumrey

Local News Reporter, KTOO

Juneau is built on hidden and assumed layers of power and access, influencing how we interact with identity, with the law and with each other. I bring you stories of the gaps in access to power, and those who are working to close those gaps.

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