Mayor vetos mail-in voting ordinance

Jul 7, 2020

Credit Wiki Commons

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce has vetoed an ordinance recently passed by the assembly expanding the number of ways to cast a ballot in borough elections.

In his memo to the assembly, Pierce says such a significant change to the borough’s voting procedures shouldn’t be left to the assembly, but rather, put to a vote of the public. Pierce said that such changes would directly impact “the fundamental right to vote.” Pierce also questioned the security of voting by mail, one of the main features of the ordinance.

Assembly member Willy Dunne of Fritz Creek said the Election Stakeholders Group already answered Pierce’s questions. Dunne said there had been no opposition to the recommendations, which have resolutions of approval from every city in the borough, until just recently.

Six votes are needed to override a mayoral veto. The ordinance passed on a 6-to-3 vote, with only assembly members Kenn Carpenter of Seward, Norm Blakeley of Sterling, and Jesse Bjorkman of Nikiski arguing against its passage.

After the ordinance passed, Blakeley and Bjorkman filed for a referendum with the borough clerk’s office for the public to vote on the issue this October. Blakeley says his sticking point is not his personal opposition to the idea, though he said he does opposed it, but rather that he thinks people should be able to vote on it.

The referendum needs 1,362 signatures of qualified borough voters by July 27 in order to make it onto the October 6 ballot. Borough clerk Johni Blankenship says that July 27 is a hard deadline—if they turn it in sooner and some signatures come up short, they could have a little extra time to find some to replace those, but if the signatures come in on July 27, that’s it. The clerk’s office has 10 days after that to verify the signatures, and if they make it, the question would be on the October 6 ballot. If not, it could still go on next year’s ballot if they pursue enough signatures within a 90-day window.

Blakeley says it’s going well and they have booklet-holders in communities all over the peninsula. He noted that in 2014, borough voters struck down a similar proposition asking whether they wanted to vote by mail. The 2014 proposition failed by a nearly 30 percent margin, with 63 percent of voters against it. Turnout during that election was 26 percent.

The assembly meets Tuesday at 6 p.m. via Zoom. Information on how to access the Zoom meeting or call into the meeting is on the borough clerk’s website, or you can tune into KDLL to hear the meeting live.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@kdll.org.