Vote-by-mail ordinance gets public hearing

Jun 2, 2020

The City of Homer's touch-screen, ADA-compliant voting machine. The Kenai Peninsula Borough does not have any similar equipment to help people with disabilities vote.
Credit KBBI

At Tuesday night's Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting, there will be a public hearing on an ordinance to establish a vote-by-mail option for elections in the Borough. Communities all over the country are considering vote-by-mail due to the current public health crisis and because of concerns about free and fair elections. Assemblymember Willy Dunne of Fritz Creek introduced this ordinance because of a recommendation from a Borough stakeholder group that issued a report in January of 2019. The group was responding to a 2018 lawsuit by a blind person who did not have access to a voting machine that allowed him to vote without assistance.

 "We got together, a group of government officials, clerks from all over the Borough, members of the public, a couple of Assemblymembers. We had a representative from the City Council on the group. There were a number of recommendations, but one of them was that we, switch to a hybrid vote by mail system," said Dunne.

Instituting a hybrid system means that voting by mail is an option, not the only way to cast a vote. Borough Assembly President Kelly Cooper of Kachemak City supports the ordinance and says that vote-by-mail increases voter turnout and is not completely new to the Borough. Communities across Kachemak Bay have been using it for years.

“We do have a couple of districts that have been doing mail ballots for several years and they have a much higher voter participation. And I have no concerns about the security of this. It's really a great way for us to get more people to participate in voting,” Cooper said.

Assemblymember Dunne says the municipality of Anchorage has the equipment and procedures already in place to count the ballots and they’re willing to assist the Borough.

“Software and hardware is used to verify that the person submitting the ballot, that the signature matches their signature on their voter registration and the database that the State provides us. So there's a certain amount of equipment that's going to be needed and training, and the Municipality of Anchorage has agreed to help us with that if we go this route,” Dunne said.

The verification process uses hardware, software and trained staff to insure that there is no voter fraud. Dunne says he did his due diligence before introducing the ordinance.

“I visited Anchorage to see how they dealt with that. And so really interesting process, the signatures are verified by a combination of software and then trained individuals who will look at the signatures and compare them to the signatures on file,” said Dunne.

In addition to bringing local elections into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, vote-by-mail has other benefits for the Borough, said Assemblymember Dunne.

“The demographics don't seem to favor one viewpoint or another. It's just overall increased participation, which I see as a bonus, that the more people we can get out voting the better our representation will be.”

The public hearing on Dunne’s vote-by mail ordinance is on the agenda for The Kenai Penisnula Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday, June 2, 2020.

For information on how to participate in public comment, go to the Borough website kpb.us.

Click on the word Assembly in the upper left corner.