Voter participation in the Kenai Peninsula Borough is not, usually, real impressive. In the past 10 years, voter turnout in municipal elections has ranged from a low of 13.35 percent to a high of 26.02 percent.
This year, COVID-19 could keep even more people away from the polls. For the municipal election coming up Oct. 6, the borough is taking an extra step to make it easier to vote in advance.
The borough assembly directed the clerk’s office to mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters in the borough. You should have gotten yours by now. They were sent Aug. 14.
Absentee voting is nothing new — it’s already allowed in the borough and state. You don’t even have to have a particular reason why you want to vote absentee. The only new thing this year is preemptively sending absentee applications in the mail. Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship said that, so far, the response has been good.
“It’s very successful, let me say that. That’s why I’m so busy. In an average year, we have between 300 and 500 applications. We are at the 2,000-application mark and we still have three weeks to go,” she said.
There’s been recent debate on the national and local level about the security of voting by mail. But it’s been working smoothly in the borough for the last 20 years. There are six voting precincts in the borough that only vote by mail — Cooper Landing, Hope, Moose Pass, Fox River, Seldovia and Tyonek. Blankenship said the same safeguards taken for those elections are being applied to by-mail absentee ballots in the rest of the borough.
“The voter is requesting that a ballot be mailed to them. So there’s a verification through the application process, and then, once we send them their ballot, that ballot is specifically sent in an envelope with that voter’s name on it. And when it is returned to us, that voter has to give us some sort of identifier that we can then verify through the voter registration database from the state of Alaska — either date of birth, last four of Social Security or voter number,” Blankenship said. “Along with, they have to sign the oath and affidavit on the outside of the envelope, which also has to be witnessed by someone else. So then it comes back to us with the voted ballot inside of it. And then that ballot itself goes through a review board, who verifies that that voter had the right to vote and the right person signed it and the right identifiers are on the envelope.”
Blankenship said the few instances of attempted double voting — mailing a ballot and going to the polls — have been caught.
“Have there been people who have double voted? Yes but we’ve always caught them and we either caught both of the ballots or caught one of them. So we’ve never actually registered a duplicate vote for somebody. And anybody who does that, we’re reporting them to the attorney general. It is a crime and they do get reported,” Blankenship said.
There’s also concern this year about turnaround time through the postal service, which is struggling nationwide with a funding crisis.
“So we can’t control the USPS. One thing I can say is that the applications that we did the mass mailing on went out of Anchorage on the 14th and we had almost 200 completed applications in our mail on Monday,” Blankenship said. “They got turned around pretty quickly. And we also make sure that any of our mailings that have to do with elections have the proper logo on them so that the USPS knows that they are time-sensitive because it’s election material.”
Ballots have to be postmarked on or before the election — Oct. 6, and have to be received before certification of the election, one week after election day.
Or you can forgo the mail altogether. There’s a secure absentee ballot drop-off box in the back parking lot of the Borough Building in Soldotna. Absentee ballots can also be dropped off at an absentee voting location, which will be open for early, in-person voting starting Sept. 21. Those sites are the borough clerk’s office in Soldotna, the borough annex office in Homer and the Kenai, Homer, Seldovia and Seward city halls.
For anyone who prefers to vote in person, on election day, that, of course, is welcome, too. Expect extra cleaning and distancing measures to be taken, given COVID-19.
You can find out more about all things voting for the Oct. 6 municipal election at kpb.us/vote. You can even apply for an absentee ballot through that website, which saves the clerk’s office a little extra work. Or, for more information, you can call the borough clerk’s office at 714-VOTE.