A surplus warehouse at 1325 Eastaugh Way, off Thane Road, seen here on Monday, July 19, 2021, is being considered by the City and Borough of Juneau as a possible location for a ballot-counting center should the city decide to increase its use of voting by mail in future municipal elections. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

A surplus warehouse at 1325 Eastaugh Way, off Thane Road, seen here on Monday, July 19, 2021, is being considered by the City and Borough of Juneau as a possible location for a ballot-counting center should the city decide to increase its use of voting by mail in future municipal elections. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

City eyes warehouse for possible ballot-counting center

As vote-by-mail increase, city weighs cost of local facilities

A city-owned warehouse near Thane Road could become a ballot-counting center for municipal elections if the City and Borough of Juneau decides to expand the use of voting by mail in municipal elections. City officials said Monday the building located near the Alaska Marine Lines port facilities meets several of the requirements for the city to conduct its own ballot counting, but renovations would still be needed.

The plan for the ballot-counting center was developed with input from the city clerk’s office as well as the same consultant used by the Municipality of Anchorage when that city set up its own vote-by-mail system, Koester said. City officials used Anchorage’s vote-counting facilities for the October 2020, election but the Assembly previously asked Koester to explore potential sites for Juneau to set up its own facility as the city eyes expanding mail-in voting.

The surplus warehouse at 1325 Eastaugh Way is the only city-owned property with enough floor space, said Katie Koester, city engineer and public works director during a public works committee meeting, and could be easily renovated with the necessary amenities such as phone and internet connections.

At an April 27 meeting, CBJ Assembly members decided to conduct the city’s next municipal election mostly by mail and decide how to proceed with future elections based on public feedback.

[Local candidates are filing in]

On Monday Koester told the CBJ Assembly Public Works and Facilities Committee other city properties were examined but didn’t have enough space to allow both the equipment for ballot counting but also requirements for public access. The total project cost would range between $475,000-$600,000, Koester said, with combined renovations, equipment purchase and set up. Renovations alone would cost up to $300,000, according to Koester and purchasing and setting up equipment could cost roughly the same.

[Municipal election to be conducted mostly by mail]

“It’s still not a cheap endeavor,” Koester said.

The Thane warehouse would require upgrades to electrical infrastructure but no demolition of walls is required, Koester said during a presentation to the committee, and the facility is well equipped for public access. Public access is a requirement for the facility, Koester said, and the warehouse has inside space, parking and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant entrances and bathrooms.

If the Assembly appropriated funds in September, Koester said, the facility would be ready for ballot counting by September 2022.

“My sense is we’re supportive of continuing to explore this option,” Assembly member Christine Woll said at the meeting.

To proceed according to the current schedule, funds would have to be appropriated at the Aug. 23, regular Assembly meeting, according to Koester’s presentation. The Assembly Committee of the Whole is set to discuss vote-by-mail elections at an Aug. 9 meeting.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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