Sometime tonight, probably long after I’ve gone to bed, Alaska will know who won the political slugfest between incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and his Republican challenger Dan Sullivan.
What most Alaskans don’t realize, however, is that they aren’t the only ones voting in their election.
Almost three months ago I left your beautiful state after living there a year while working for the Juneau Empire. About a week ago, I logged a ballot in your election.
Now, before anyone starts calling to report me to the authorities, I want to explain how and why I decided to vote in a state I don’t call home any more.
Actually, feel free to make those calls, because Alaska’s election law is crafted specifically to allow me and others like me to vote there for as long as I desire under two conditions: I can’t register to vote elsewhere, and I have to intend to return to Alaska to live on a full-time basis.
I may not return to Alaska for 40 years, until I’m ready to retire (I certainly it’s not that long), but that timing is irrelevant.
I registered to vote in Alaska when I moved there last year, and I plan to move back someday. Therefore, I am an eligible voter.
“There’s no limit on when, where or why, so long as they don’t register to vote elsewhere,” Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai told me during a phone call last week.
You read that all correctly. I live in Texas, will for the foreseeable future, and am legally able to vote in Alaska and will continue to be for as long as I choose.
When I decided this summer to move back to my home state, I had a number of mixed feelings. While certainly not at the top of my list of considerations, the ability to vote on issues and for or against candidates I had covered as the Juneau Empire’s state government reporter was something I was looking forward to.
Republican Rep. Cathy Muñoz and Democratic Sen. Dennis Egan were both individuals I got to know while covering government — both of whom maintained an ample supply of sugary treats for friendly reporters (Cathy’s office takes the cake for best snacks in the building; sorry, Dennis).
Those two races are among the ones that appeared on the ballot I submitted online. Other questions included the legalization of marijuana, raising the state minimum wage, the governor’s race, judge appointments and, yes, the Senate race.
So here’s how it went down.
On Oct. 20, I emailed the Alaska Division of Elections a completed absentee ballot application that included my registered voter address, my name, email address, Texas phone number and a few identifying numbers. I included my voter number, but just my birth date would also have sufficed.
The next day, I received a response: “Your ballot is available for the 2014 General Election.”
Clicking a hyperlink took me to a website that walked me through marking my selection for each race and ballot question. After I finished, I downloaded a filled-in ballot.
I then had to submit a “Voter Certificate and Identification” form that required me to assure the state I was a U.S. citizen and had been an Alaskan resident for at least 30 days, and that I was not voting in this election in any other way or requesting a ballot in another state.
All true statements.
I uploaded the completed ballot file along with the voter certificate and got a confirmation page.
“Thank you! You have completed the online voting process. You may confirm you ballot was uploaded by clicking the ‘Track My Ballot’ tab,” the website read.
I clicked the “Track My Ballot” tab and found a line that said “ballot returned.” The next day I checked through the state Division of Election voter status webpage to find 10/22/2014 next to the Ballot Received Date.
An intense battle for control of the United States Senate some 3,000 miles from Anchorage has thrust the Last Frontier to the forefront of political attention as Sullivan tries to unseat Begich.
Millions upon millions of dollars have been spent trying to either convince you that Begich is in fact President Barack Obama’s fair-skinned twin or that Sullivan is less Alaskan than the Dallas Cowboys.
In 2010, 259,000 ballots were cast across the state, with about 21,000 of those being mailed in. While some mailed-in ballots came from within Alaska’s borders, undoubtedly others came from Outside. The state doesn’t track how long those voters had been out of the state, how often they visit or if they are really making plans to return.
The electronic voting mechanism I employed was first rolled out in 2012.
In Alaska, where an individual vote may mean more than any other state thanks to a small population, there’s no telling how many ballots will come from the Outside because the state doesn’t track absentee voters’ locations.
• Matt Woolbright was an Empire reporter from August 2013 to August 2014. He currently works as a reporter in Corpus Christi, Texas.