A voter leaves the assembly chambers in City Hall after voting in the Oct. 6, 2020, municipal election, which was primarily conducted via mail. Next month's election will also be conducted mostly by mail with ballots counted in Anchorage. On Monday night, assembly members approved $700,000 to renovate a local warehouse and purchase equipment to count ballots locally. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

City approves new ballot-counting center

City ok’s $700,000 to renovate warehouse

At Monday night’s City and Borough of Juneau Assembly meeting, assembly members unanimously passed an ordinance to spend $700,000 to turn a city-owned warehouse near Thane Road into a ballot-counting center — a move that could pave the way for future vote-by-mail elections.

The assembly has been considering a plan to open a local ballot-counting center for the last several months, as members mull over the best way to conduct future municipal elections in the capital city.

According to materials shared before the meeting, the $700,000 approved to configure the Thane Warehouse and purchase the equipment needed to support a vote-by-mail election comes from the general fund.

According to CBJ City Manager Rorie Watt, about $330,000 of the money will go toward the renovation with the balance going to equipment expenses.

Officials expect the new ballot counting center to be complete in time to conduct the 2022 municipal election at the center.

Elections in Juneau

By city charter, CBJ holds a municipal election on the first Tuesday of October each year. This year’s election will take place on Oct. 5 and will be conducted primarily by mail, with two in-person voting opportunities.

Elections officials are mailing ballots to all of Juneau’s registered voters on Sept. 14. Residents can drop their completed ballots off between Sept. 16 and Oct. 5.

City staff members will take the ballots to Anchorage for counting, as Juneau lacks the equipment needed to count mail-in ballots locally.

Your 2021 ballot is in the mail

Differing opinions

Before the assembly cast the vote to move forward with the center, Marjorie Menzi, a representative of the League of Women Voters, called in to encourage the assembly members to vote yes.

“The capital of Alaska needs to ensure that our elections continue to be well-run,” she said. “Providing adequate funding for our most fundamental right seems a reasonable expenditure of public dollars.”

During her comments, Menzi said that mail-in voting is a “secure and fraud-free method of voting” and pointed out that the city had already successfully completed a vote-by-mail election that resulted in strong voter participation.

In 2020, the pandemic led the assembly to decide on a by-mail election. City officials reported voter turnout was high compared to historical standards, with more than 40% of ballots coming back.

Public weighs in on local ballot counting center

During a public hearing last month, residents expressed concern about the plan to build the center, citing rapidly changing technology and the building’s location, which is in an area that new city maps designate as an avalanche zone.

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4890.

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