Next KPB election could be more accessible

Mar 3, 2021

Brent Hibbert and Brent Johnson introduced the ordinance at the borough assembly meeting Tuesday night.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

Since the November 2020 election, lawmakers in states across the country have ramped up efforts to change election laws, making it more difficult for people to vote. This week, the Georgia House passed an election bill that would limit early voting. An Alaska state senator has proposed a bill to limit by-mail voting throughout the state.

Next month, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will hear an ordinance that would make it easier for borough residents to vote. The borough is planning to buy seven ADA-compliant voting machines and lease 26 others, geared to help voters who are visually impaired.

The ordinance will authorize the borough to buy those machines. It’s is holding a hearing on it April 20.

It’s part of the fallout from a 2015 complaint by former Homer resident Richard Malley. Malley, who is visually impaired, alleged in a complaint with Alaska State Commission for Human Rights that there was not an accessible voting machine available for him when he went to vote.

The commission agreed and told the borough to fix the problem. The borough convened a stakeholder group that had several recommendations to make voting more accessible, including the implementation of a hybrid vote-by-mail system. That system was implemented and later repealed last fall.

Another recommendation was to have accessible voting machines at every location where voting occurs on the peninsula. The borough looked for voting machine vendors and got quotes from both Dominion Voting Systems and Election Systems and Software. Ultimately, it went with Dominion.

Sammy Crawford of the League of Women Voters was part of the stakeholder committee. She remembered hearing from Dominion when the committee was looking at machine vendors.

“And they came to visit us and their machines were amazing," she said.

The borough already uses Dominion equipment in its elections, but those machines are outdated and not ADA-compliant.

Recently, the company came under fire following false claims from former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was rigged and machines like Dominion’s were inaccurate. One of Dominion’s employees went into hiding last year because he was receiving so many death threats.

Rigorous audits across the U.S. have found Dominion machines to be accurate. The company is pursuing lawsuits against Trump and his allies for defamation. 

Crawford said it’s incredibly important the borough has private and accessible voting for people with accessibilities.

“And so I’m very pleased that the borough is considering new machines," she said. "Dominion is a great company and I’m hoping that those purchases go through."

The borough is purchasing seven machines for its six in-person absentee voting locations — the seventh unit is a backup. Those machines would cost just over $100,000.

The borough would lease the 26 for all the borough’s remaining polling locations. Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship said the borough is pursuing a two-year lease for those machines so it can first make sure it likes them before making a big purchase. That lease will cost the borough almost $149,000.

Blankenship said the borough aims to have the machines ready by its next election. 

Separately, Assemblyman Jesse Bjorkman said he will bring forth legislation next month that would codify some standard operating procedures with regards to voting, like publicly testing machines before elections and sealing them afterward. He said he thinks last year’s election was secure but he wants people to have confidence in the system, particularly when it comes to voting machines.