Petitioners to repeal by-mail voting turn in signatures

Jul 28, 2020

The sponsors of the referendum to repeal the borough’s ordinance offering a vote-by-mail option have turned in their signatures.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough clerk’s office is still evaluating the petition booklets for validity. Borough clerk Johni Blankenship says they have until Aug. 6 to ensure that the petitioners gathered at least 1,362 valid signatures from Kenai Peninsula Borough voters.

Sponsor Norm Blakeley, who represents the Sterling and Funny River areas on the borough assembly, says they turned in more than 2,000 signatures. He and assembly member Jesse Bjorkman of Nikiski started the petition about three weeks ago in response to the assembly’s upholding of the ordinance after assembly member Kenn Carpenter of Seward asked for them to reconsider it. The assembly originally passed the ordinance at its June 2 meeting on a 6-3 split, with Carpenter, Blakeley, and Bjorkman voting against it.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce then vetoed it, and the assembly overrode the veto along the same voting lines. Blakeley says the assembly has had three chances to do the right thing, which he says is to send the question of whether to allow voting by mail to the ballot.

The ordinance sets up a system where every registered voter in the Kenai Peninsula will receive a ballot by mail prior to an election. People can still vote in person at any voting site. By-mail ballots would have to be mailed at the latest by midnight on election day. The by-mail ballots require a signatures on the identification envelope and can be mailed back or deposited in a drop box. The ordinance also updates other parts of the election process, such as changing language to gender neutral and allowing for more time between a mayoral election and a runoff election.

A working group on election reform met for about a year, partially in response to an equal-access lawsuit against the borough by a disabled voter. The ordinance the assembly ultimately passed takes effect Jan. 1, 2021.

If the clerk’s office validates enough signatures to qualify the referendum, it will appear on the Oct. 6 ballot. If they come up short, they could still gather more during the rest of their 90-day window, but it would have to go on the 2021 ballot.

Click here to see the full docket on the assembly's website for the ordinance.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@kdll.org.