Kenai assembly considers vote-by-mail elections

Assemblyman: Method could improve turnout

Originally, it was thought that holding Kenai Peninsula Borough elections by mail would be more cost effective, but according to a fiscal note, it would actually cost more money.

“I was disappointed because I initially thought … that we could actually save money, but the extra printing and postage costs added up,” said assembly member Bill Smith.

However, the assumed savings were a secondary consideration, Smith said about an ordinance he sponsored to require vote-by-mail elections. His main motive is to increase voter participation.

A public hearing on the ordinance was scheduled for Tuesday’s borough assembly meeting.

Last year, the borough saw about 21 percent of voters turn out, which Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said is “dismal at best.”

While costs are estimated to rise if elections are held by mail, Smith called the increase modest.

According to a fiscal note prepared by Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship, costs for mayoral election years are estimated to increase by $57,420 and by $23,090 for non-mayoral election years, if the assembly approves vote-by-mail elections.

The largest savings would be in personnel costs with a decrease of $10,910. Three boards — logic and accuracy testing, absentee voting officials and canvass — would require only 30 people compared to 116 for polling place elections.

“We kept everything except for day-of-election workers,” Blankenship said.

Contract services, which includes ballot stuffing and postage costs, would see one of the highest increases at $19,750. The borough pays for return postage for the voted ballots as well.

“We also have a charge, a pretty large charge, when they are returned undeliverable,” Blankenship said.

However, returned undeliverable ballots will help the borough to verify bad residential addresses, she said.

Of the 28 precincts within the borough, six are currently absentee-by-mail only.

For those who prefer to vote in person, absentee-voting stations will be available 15 days before Election Day at the borough clerk’s office at the George A. Navarre Administration Building in Soldotna, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Annex office in Homer and the nearest city clerk’s office.

The borough is able to consider by-mail elections because the Alaska Legislature passed Senate Bill 213 this year, which eliminates the need for election boards for each precinct. Requiring an election board for each precinct for local governments that want to hold by-mail or electronic elections is costly and wasteful, Micciche said, according to an April press release.

“It’s a simple bill, but I think the results, hopefully, will result in more Alaskans becoming engaged in local elections and ultimately becoming more interested in the results of those elections,” Micciche said.

Micciche said he thinks local governments that chose to hold by-mail elections in Alaska will see a dramatic increase in voter participation because it will be more convenient for rural Alaskans.

“If we try (by-mail elections) for a couple of years and it doesn’t work out, we can always go back,” Smith said. “It’s not the end of the world.”

• Kaylee Osowski is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. She can be reached at kaylee.osowski@peninsulaclarion.com.

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