Q&A: How to vote in Alaska’s first all-mail election
By Iris Samuels
More than a half a million ballots were mailed to Alaska voters on April 27. As of Friday, just under 8,000 ballots had been returned to the Division of Elections.
The special election for Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat is unprecedented in many respects. It’s the first all-mail election in the state, it’s the first under Alaska’s new election laws that put all candidates on a single primary ballot regardless of party affiliation, and the field encompasses 48 candidates, more than in any other primary in the state.
It’s no wonder voters have a lot of questions. Here, we have some answers from the Division of Elections.
When will I get my ballot?
Thousands of Alaskans have already received their ballot. If you haven’t yet, you should check that your voter registration is up-to-date on the Division of Elections website. If you need to update your address or register to vote, you have until Thursday, May 12 to do so.
Once you are registered, you will be sent a primary ballot automatically — there’s no need to request one.
If your information is already correct, it could just be a matter of time until the ballot arrives. Because of the short notice ahead of the election this year and a national paper shortage, the Division of Elections is using a printing service in Arizona, and ballots were mailed to voters from there on April 27. So, it could take a while to reach your mailbox, especially if you live in a rural area.
You can sign up to track your ballot using BallotTrax, a new text message and email notification service offered by the Division of Elections this year, that will let you know if your ballot is on its way and, after you mail it, when it is received by elections officials.
How do I fill out my ballot?
There has been a lot of talk in recent months about Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system. But ranked choice only applies to the general election. In the primary, voters must pick only one candidate out of the 48 listed on the ballot. The top four vote-getters in the primary will advance to a ranked-choice general election that will be held Aug. 16.
Once you choose a single candidate on the primary ballot, you must place the ballot in the secrecy sleeve provided. Then you’ll place it in the provided envelope. You must sign and provide an identifier on the exterior of the envelope. Finally, get a witness to sign the envelope. If you don’t fulfill these requirements, your ballot will not be counted.
The Division of Elections will not notify voters if their ballot is invalid, and voters cannot alter their ballot once it is mailed.
The division will send voters a letter after the election if their ballot was not counted.
Ballots must be postmarked on or before June 11. If you are mailing your ballot close to that day, consider dropping it off at the post office in person to ensure it gets postmarked before the deadline.
The U.S. Postal Service employs “a robust and proven process to ensure proper handling of all Election Mail, including ballots,” according to a USPS statement provided by spokesperson James Boxrud.
Can I vote in person?
For those who prefer to vote in person, there are dozens of absentee in-person voting locations across the state. Most will be open May 27 through June 10, but check the list on the Division of Elections website for exact hours and locations. These are different from regular polling places — voters will have to fill out an absentee envelope and their votes will be counted the same way by-mail ballots will be counted this year.
There are also early voting places in Anchorage, Palmer, Soldotna, Wasilla, Fairbanks, Homer, Juneau and Nome. Many — though not all — of these places will be open on Saturday, June 11, the last day of voting. Again, check the list for exact times. At early voting places, voters will not have to fill out an absentee envelope because election officials will be there to review voter information on the spot.
You can also fill out the ballot you received by mail and hand-deliver it to one of the division’s regional offices in Juneau, Anchorage, Wasilla, Fairbanks or Nome.
When will we get results?
The absentee review board will start reviewing ballots on May 27. That is earlier than typical, according to Tiffany Montemayor, a spokesperson for the Division of Elections. The earlier review start time will allow the division to report preliminary election results on election night, after the last in-person voting locations close at 8 p.m.
The absentee review board will review envelopes to check for voter eligibility and registration status, and to make sure the voter has not already cast a ballot. The board will also check to make sure all the necessary identifying information has been provided.
Then, the secrecy sleeve in the ballot is set aside until it’s time to count the ballots. The counting is done at the regional Division of Elections offices by regional counting boards, which are made up of bipartisan voters. Vote counters work in teams of two, where no two workers are members of the same political party.
All election results are unofficial until the last ballots are counted. Ballots must be postmarked by June 11, but the division has 10 days to receive the ballots, until June 21. After that, the state review board will look over results and conduct random hand counts to ensure results are accurate. The state review board is set to begin work June 23, with a target of certifying the results by June 25.
How are you sure no one votes twice?
Election workers will check the identifying information on every envelope they receive and log that information. If another ballot arrives with the same name, that second ballot will be invalidated. If someone votes in an early voting location, their information will also be immediately logged.
Why does my ballot look different from someone else’s ballot?
Each state House district gets its own ballot. Candidates begin in alphabetical order in House District 1 and rotate from there. So, for example, the first candidate listed for House District 1 is Dennis Aguayo, and the second candidate is Jay Armstrong. For House District 2, Armstrong is listed first, and Aguayo drops to the bottom of the list. This process repeats itself for all 40 districts.
What’s up with the envelope?
Voters may have noticed some unusual things about the return envelope for ballots. The envelope has a pull tab that should be left on to prevent the mail carrier from seeing your personal information. But a ballot will still be counted if the tab is missing.
Some voters reported difficulties sealing their envelopes, so the division recommends using glue to ensure the envelope remains sealed.
My dog ate my ballot.
If you lost your ballot, or the first ballot you received is no longer usable, you can request a new ballot by contacting any of the regional Division of Elections offices. The deadline to request a new ballot is June 1. You can also request a new ballot be delivered electronically — either by fax or via an emailed link to a printable ballot — by June 10 at 5 p.m.
What if I got a ballot not meant for me?
If you receive a ballot by mail that is addressed to someone who no longer lives at your address, the division says you should write “Not at this address – RETURN TO SENDER” and place it back in the mailbox. If a ballot is delivered to someone who is deceased, you should write “Deceased – RETURN TO SENDER” and place it back in the mailbox. The Postal Service will return these ballots to the division, which will void the ballot and update the voter’s information.