Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai speaks at an Anchorage news conference on Tuesday, March 22, 2022, about the upcoming special election to fill the U.S. House of Representatives vacated following the death of Don Young last week. Screenshot)

Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai speaks at an Anchorage news conference on Tuesday, March 22, 2022, about the upcoming special election to fill the U.S. House of Representatives vacated following the death of Don Young last week. Screenshot)

Dates set for race to fill House seat

State gets first run at ranked-choice on compressed timeline

State officials set the dates Tuesday for the special elections to fill Alaska’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, recently vacated by the death of Don Young.

An open special primary will be held June 11, according to Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, who heads the Alaska Division of Elections, with a ranked choice, special general election to be held Aug. 16, the same day as the regular open primary election.

At a news conference with Gov. Mike Dunleavy and DOE Director Gail Fenumiai, Meyer said because of the compressed timeline and other challenges faced by the division, the special general election votes will appear on the same ballot as the general primary vote. Additionally, the special primary election will be done almost entirely with mail-in voting.

The U.S. is experiencing a paper shortage, Fenumiai said, and the division was concerned about being able to hire the labor force needed to man in-person polling places in such a short time. Ballots need to be sent out quickly, Meyer said, as federal law requires ballots to overseas military members be delivered 45 days ahead of the election.

“An in-person election requires about 2,000-plus workers,” Fenumiai said. “Given the compressed timeframe the division did not feel we would be able to recruit that number of workers to be able to pull off an in-person election.”

What’s more, the state’s legislative districts are still unknown as the once-a-decade redistricting process is still in the process of being litigated. The state’s districts aren’t necessary for the statewide primary vote, Fenumiai said, but without set districts, the division can’t set polling places.

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Dates and deadlines

Fenumiai said that every Alaskan registered to vote by May 13 will receive a mail-in ballot, with return postage paid by the state. Ballots will require a witness signature in order to be valid. The Alaska State Supreme Court waived the witness signature requirement for the 2020 election, but that applied only to that election.

The June 11 election will be a special primary, and will be open to any candidate who files by 5 p.m. on April 1, and pays the $100 fee, Meyer said. The names of the top four vote-getters will appear on the special general election ballot on Aug. 16. But on that same ballot, Alaskans will also vote in another open primary, this time for the general election in November. The top four vote-getters from that primary will appear on the regular election ballot in November. The date to file for the regular election is June 1.

Fenumiai said DOE would be stepping up public information campaigns to help inform the public about the special elections. DOE was already working on public outreach for the ranked choice voting system, Fenumiai said.

The U.S. Constitution requires a vote to replace a member of the U.S. House of Representatives after 60 days and after no more than 90. But House members were already preparing for the regular election in November, so whoever wins the special election will only be in office until the winner of the regular election is sworn in. The new voting laws require at least two votes — an open primary followed by a general ranked-choice election.

The special election and the regular primary will appear on the same ballot, but they’re technically separate elections, Meyer said, and candidates can file for both.

That’s why two candidates already running for Young’s seat — Republican Nick Begich III and Democrat Christopher Constant — have said they’ll throw their hats in the ring for the special election, but with a new open primary system, more candidates are expected.

The governor has to issue an official proclamation for the special elections, and at the news conference Tuesday Dunleavy said his office would issue one that afternoon or early Wednesday morning.

Smooth sailing ahead?

DOE has discussed using signature verification software for the election like the Municipality of Anchorage does, Fenumiai said, but Meyer said it would be difficult to purchase enough equipment and train staff to use them in time for the elections.

But Meyer said the 2020 election, much of which was done by mail, had been reviewed and no issues were found.

“I’m not too concerned by the security of vote by mail,” Meyer said. “We didn’t see any problem in the last election, at all, so we’re not anticipating any.”

Meyer’s name will not be appearing on this year’s ballot, having previously announced he will not seek re-election. Dunleavy has yet to name a running mate.

But some lawmakers raised skepticism the process would go as smoothly as portrayed. In a statement, the House Republican Caucus called Ballot Measure 2 — the 2020 initiative that enacted ranked-choice voting by a slim majority of votes — misguided and shortsighted.

“Because of U.S. constitutional provisions, federal law, existing state statute and provisions of ballot measure two, we will have to conduct a special primary election as an “all mail” election and a special general election that won’t likely be certified until sometime in September,” the caucus said in a statement. “Unlike legislation passed by the legislature following a lengthy and thorough review by policy committees and debated extensively by both bodies of the legislature, ballot measures go through no such vetting.”

According to DOE’s website, the division hopes to have the special primary election certified by June 25, and the special general election results certified by Sept. 2.

Early voting will be available at the state’s five regional offices, Fenumiai said, for the 15-days prior to and including election day to allow for people to vote in person. Fenumiai said there will also be absentee in-person voting in other parts of the state, though not for the same full 15 days. DOE’s regional office in Juneau is in the Mendenhall Mall at 9109 Mendenhall Mall Road, Suite 3.

Additional information on the special elections and ranked-choice voting can be found at DOE’s website, elections.alaska.gov.

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

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