This May 2022 photo shows a ballot and return envelope in the state’s special primary election. Tuesday is Election Day for the general election featuring three of the top vote-getters from the earlier ballot. Aug. 16 will also include a regular primary election. Only the special election will feature ranked choice voting. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

This May 2022 photo shows a ballot and return envelope in the state’s special primary election. Tuesday is Election Day for the general election featuring three of the top vote-getters from the earlier ballot. Aug. 16 will also include a regular primary election. Only the special election will feature ranked choice voting. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Clarifying an election unlike any other

Confusion about unique ballot impairs otherwise lively vote next week.

Editor’s note: This article has been moved in front of the Juneau Empire’s paywall.

The unique special general and primary elections culminating next Tuesday are confusing enough without at least one of the candidates spreading misinformation, top election officials said during a media briefing Wednesday.

The good news from their perspective is early participation is strong — with the 20,000 absentee ballots already cast doubling the total absentee tally during the entire 2018 primary — and field tests suggest counting the results should go smoothly under the new ranked choice system.

Plenty of questions from unclear voters are expected through election day (see below for explanations to common inquiries). Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer and Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai also said during the briefing final results won’t be known until 15 days later on Aug. 31 — so, yes, candidates who may have seemingly solid leads on Tuesday night may not be the eventual winners.

“I always think it’s not a good idea to predict a winner before all the votes are counted,” Fenumiai said. “We are hopefully going to be able to count a large amount of absentee ballots and early ballots on election night.”

What concerns Mayer and Fenumiai is that many people uneasy about the new process are now being fed fibs that are fueling doubts about the process and resulting in a high number of inquiries by residents of election officials.

“It’s concerning to me that at least one of the candidates has been telling voters misinformation,” Meyer said.

[House candidates debate in Juneau]

While neither he nor Fenumiai specified names, Republican U.S. House candidate Sarah Palin has frequently been making national headlines in recent weeks by making an assortment of false and conspiratorial claims. In a podcast with Steve Bannon last week, for example, she referred to “mail-in only ballots, Dominion computerized counting, no hand counting” and repeated a badly distorted explanation about how ranked choice voting works.

None of those are true, Meyer said.

“This is not a vote-by-mail election,” he said. Furthermore, “there is no internet voting, there is no machine voting. It is all done by paper.”

The paper ballots are fed into Dominion machines, but they’ve been used since the 1990s (when Palin was elected Wasilla’s mayor multiple times and then governor) and “they’ve worked quite well for us,” Meyer said.

Among the verification measures of results is recounting the votes from one precinct in each district, he said.

During the online briefing, attended by national news organizations such as CNN as well as most Alaska media outlets, Meyer and Fenumiai offered a public overview of information contained in a 17-page media briefing guide, including the following (a comprehensive guide is also available at the Division of Elections website):

GENERAL VOTING GUIDELINES

What elections are happening Aug. 16

People are voting in two elections: a special U.S. House race to fill the remainder of the late Don Young’s term, and a statewide primary to determine candidates for the general election.

The rate of early/absentee voting to date

As of Tuesday, in addition to the 20,000 absentee ballots (compared to 10,000 for the entire primary in 2018) a total of about 6,600 in-person early votes have been cast (compared to 8,000 for the entire primary in 2018). Meyer said the final early voting tally should “easily exceed that in 2018.”

Requesting absentee ballots

The deadline to submit requests by mail has passed. Requests for electronic transmission ballots can be submitted at the Division of Elections website until 5 p.m. Aug. 15

Electronic submission ballots are not “internet ballots”

Such ballots must be printed out and mailed or faxed along with providing mandatory voter certificate/identification details. That includes providing witness signatures, the lack of which resulted in a nullification rate of votes in June’s special election primary that triggered numerous complaints.

The deadline for absentee ballots

Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Aug. 16 and electronic transmission ballots submitted by fax must be postmarked by 8 p.m. Aug. 16.

What time polls are open on election day

From 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

When the first set of results are expected on election night

About between 8:45-9 p.m.

When interim vote count updates are expected after election day

On the seventh, 10th and 15th days after the election, with an additional update before the seven-day period possible depending on the number of absentee ballots received.

When the final results will be known

The deadline to receive absentee ballots is Aug. 31. The “target date for (the) State Review Board to certify election” is Sept. 2.

The process for a recount/challenge

The deadline to request a recount is five days after certification and the deadline to file a challenge is ten days after certification.

SPECIAL ELECTION

How the special House election will be decided via ranked choice voting

There are three candidates: Republicans Nick Begich III and Sarah Palin, and Democrat Mary Peltola. Voters can rank two or more of them in order of preference. If one of the candidates gets more than 50% of the first-choice vote they win. If none do, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and those votes are distributed to the voters’ next choice on those ballots — and the candidate of the final two with the highest resulting votes wins.

What happens if an improperly marked ranked choice ballot is inserted into a machine

An incorrect ballot, such as one where a single candidate is ranked multiple times, will be rejected by the machine. The voter will have the opportunity to correct the ballot or request a new one.

When will the winner of the special election be known

Fenumiai said election officials will wait until the legal deadline of Aug. 31 for all absentee ballots to arrive before using the ranked choice system to determine the winner, which should be a near-instantaneous calculation process. No results beyond the first-choice votes for the three candidates will be publicly released prior to that date.

How long the winner of the special election will serve in Congress

Until the winner of the regular election is sworn in on Jan. 3, barring extraordinary circumstances.

PRIMARY ELECTION

Who can cast primary election ballots for which candidates

Unlike previous primary elections where voters had to select a party ballot, everyone will vote for all candidates listed on a single ballot.

Which primary election winners will advance to the general election

The new ranked choice system means the top-four finishers in each race will advance. However, the primary itself is a pick-one election.

What races are on the ballot

U.S. Senate, U.S. Representative, governor /lieutenant governor, all 40 House seats in the Alaska Legislature and half of the 20 state Senate seats (including Juneau’s).

Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

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