Vote-by-mail veto easily overturned by KPB Assembly

Jul 8, 2020

Credit Kenai Peninsula Borough

The latest attempt to keep an easier, hybrid vote-by-mail system from coming to Kenai Peninsula Borough residents was turned back at Tuesday night’s assembly meeting. A veto made by Mayor Charlie Pierce on Monday of Ordinance 20-24 was overturned on a 6-to-3 vote.
    In defense of his veto, Pierce had previously claimed on social media that the vote-by-mail system would be mandatory, which is not the case. Assembly President Kelly Cooper called a post on Pierce’s campaign Facebook to that effect on June 13 irresponsible for its inaccuracy.
    “Listen, I have a First Amendment right just like you do,” Pierce responded.
    “Well, and you also have the responsibility when you talk about trust to be accurate,” Cooper said.
    “Thanks for your point,” Pierce said, interrupting her.
    Pierce also repeated the tally of an on-line poll taken by Kenai commercial radio station KSRM as a reason to overturn the ordinance. The poll was touted earlier in the debate by Assemblymember Jessie Bjorkman, who, in addition to being a public school teacher in Nikiski, is a talk show host at the station.
    “There's 400 that say do it, there's 43 that said, don't. I don't think you can ignore that. I hope you don’t,” Pierce said. “I hope you will not ignore the fact that I don't believe that the voice that you're counting on or you're listening to is, is an accurate reflection of how people in this borough feel.”
    The ordinance, as has been pointed out many times during assembly debate, has resolutions of support from every city in the borough, and included stakeholders from across the borough. Fritz Creek Assemblymember Willy Dunne previously pointed out that those resolutions represent thousands of people.
    Unintentionally, Pierce appeared to compliment the Election Stakeholder’s Group for reaching a consensus on the elements in the ordinance, before catching himself.
    “I appreciate the work that this group did,” Pierce said. “You went to many months, you sat in the room. Look what the gravel group did, they sat in the room for many, over a year and worked on gravel and couldn't come up with a new code that the group could agree to, and yet you, um, think that, and I, and this is where I separate myself and say, ‘I’m going to trust the voice of the people.’”
    Pierce wanted the ordinance to be voted on by the public instead of passed by the assembly.
    Dunne pointed out that not only are mail-in-ballots not mandatory under the new ordinance, the hybrid system will allow some who’ve previously been denied a chance to vote in person that opportunity.
     “I have a number of constituents out East End Road who do not have the option of voting at a polling place. They are in a vote by mail district, and the hybrid voting system would actually give them the opportunity to go into a polling place or a vote center in order to cast their ballot. So it's, it's expanding rights rather than retracting them,” Dunne said. “And, I am against voter suppression. I want people to have as many options as possible.”
    Now that there are no more roadblocks to enactment, the ordinance will go into effect on January 1, 2021, and apply only to borough elections.
    However, it’s not clear sailing for expanded voting options. The three assembly members who have led the campaign against vote-by-mail, Sterling’s Norm Blakley, Seward’s Kenn Carpenter and Nikiski’s Bjorkman, have sponsored a ballot initiative to overturn the ordinance. In order to appear on this October’s Municipal Election ballot, the completed petition booklets need to be returned to the clerk’s office by July 27.
    Ordinance 20-24 not only provides for vote-by-mail elections, but provides for more time between regular elections and run-offs, and it removes position statements from ballot initiatives in the voter pamphlet.