Alaska officials defend military voting process

State's elections director disputes study's claims of voting difficulty by overseas troops

Posted: Thursday, January 08, 2009

A national study that included Alaska on a list of states that need to make it easier for military personnel overseas to vote failed to recognize that changes have already been made, said Gail Fenumiai, state elections director.

The Pew Center for the States this week released a study listing several states, military-dependent Alaska among them, which don't do enough to guarantee that military voters' ballots are counted.

The report, "No Time to Vote: Challenges Facing America's Overseas Military Voters," concluded that one-third of states do not provide enough time to vote and that half of all states need to improve their absentee voting procedures to ensure that votes of service men and women overseas will be counted.

The study said voters in Alaska could only make sure they had adequate time to vote if they faxed in their ballots. That met the deadline, the report said, but at the cost of the voter waiving his or her right to a secret ballot. Also, not every voter may have access to a fax machine, especially in some military postings, it said.

Fenumiai said Pew failed to take into consideration a "special advance ballot" which goes out 60 days ahead of the regular absentee ballot by special request.

"We sent out several thousand of those" to voters who sought them, Fenumiai said. "They were sent their special advance ballot and their official ballot."

Only one of those would be counted.

Unlike other states, Alaska does not require ballots to be received by Election Day, though ballots must be postmarked by then. Ballots mailed within the United States have 10 days after Election Day to arrive; overseas ballots have 15 days.

"It seems that in most states it has to be received by Election Day," Fenumiai said.

That was one reason final returns were late coming in during some particularly close races, but Fenumiai said Alaska accepts that trade off to ensure that the maximum number of its military voters are included.

Fenumiai said some changes might be able to improve absentee voting, including the possibility of accepting ballots by e-mail.

"When we first started the fax voting, that was the only way to send a ballot electronically," she said.

Now, she said, technology has changed.

"It seems more people have access to a computer than a fax machine," Fenumiai said.

Such a statutory change would take legislative action.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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