How the Kenai Peninsula Borough administers local elections could be changing. A complaint to the state’s Commission for Human Rights in 2015 has led to the borough creating an election stakeholders group that will look for better ways to help residents cast their votes.
In 2015, a visually impaired voter found the borough’s accommodations for his needs to be lacking. After voting in that year’s primary elections using the state’s touch screen system, Richard Malley was unable to vote in regular, local elections using the same technology. As a result of that complaint, the city of Homer installed a touch screen prior to the 2016 primaries. But the Borough is still working on a fix.
“We don’t have that sort of ADA compliant equipment during our regular elections," says Borough clerk Johni Blankenship.
“What we have is a protocol in place which allows an election worker to assist those folks who need it, or for (voters) to bring somebody with them to assist. And so, he was not happy with that option.”
Cut to today. The Human Rights Commission and the borough have come to a conciliation agreement, and a big part of it is putting together a task force of sorts, to look at what potential changes need to be made in the borough’s voting process to make it as user friendly as possible for everyone.
There had been work at the state level to streamline things, but that effort is in a holding pattern under a new administration. Blankenship was a part of that working group, and says she was already looking at new options for the borough, including new voting machines and adding a hybrid system, where registered voters would automatically be sent a ballot to mail in, or they could go to a voting center up to two weeks before an election. But new technology will almost certainly be part of the equation.
“It’s imperative that we explore everything," Blankenship says.
"There may be something that comes out of this that I’ve never even thought about. I’m hoping that we’re all open to everything. I know I am. And I think it’s imperative that once we make a decision, that we all then go back to our elected bodies and get consensus, and then get a directive for the clerks to move in that direction.”
She says it’s also important that cities be on board, in much the same way Homer has already made some changes. The stakeholders group will have between 7-10 members and is expected to have recommendations by August. Public meetings will also be scheduled for community input. The assembly will vote on the resolution to create the stakeholders group when it meets January 8th.