When Juneau’s voters cast ballots for local candidates in October, they will do so from home using a mail-in ballot that will be transported to Anchorage for counting. But, the process for conducting future elections and counting the votes remains undecided.
As the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly mull the process for future municipal elections, they are exploring options to open a local ballot-counting facility — a move that could pave the way to future vote-by-mail elections.
At Monday night’s CBJ Assembly meeting, assembly members heard public testimony on an ordinance to spend $700,000 to turn a city-owned warehouse near Thane Road into a ballot-counting center.
Six residents called into the Zoom meeting to share feedback about the proposal, with most supporting the idea of conducting future elections by mail and establishing a local ballot counting center.
“I encourage the assembly to adopt this ordinance to take CBJ elections into the future,” said Laurie Sica, who was the city’s municipal clerk from 2000 to 2018. She recounted many improvements to the voting process over the last 25 years, including moving polling places out of private homes and expanding early and absentee voting.
“For years the city clerk has conducted elections on a peanuts budget,” she said, adding that employees have used private vehicles to move polling equipment around town and to cobble together space at City Hall to store election supplies. She said the system has relied on retired senior citizens and guidance and support from the state—two things that may not always be available.
She said she supports vote-by-mail elections.
“I feel like it’s a safe and secure method of voting,” she said.
Other callers mentioned the convenience of mail-in voting for residents who work long hours or can’t easily get to the polls.
Claire Richardson recalled “waddling” down to vote at the Bartlett Regional Hospital polling place while in labor a few hours before delivering a baby.
“The last few years have shown that anybody can have the opportunity to vote and not have to wait until election day,” she said. “It’s time for the capital city to step up to the plate and have their own facility. This is a great way for people who work long hours or have to travel to cast their vote.”
However, not all comments were fully in support of the proposal.
Resident Dave Hanna said that he favored making it possible for everyone to vote and keeping the entire process local. But, he said he had concerns about the specific proposal.
“That warehouse building is squarely in an avalanche zone,” he said, mentioning the city’s current effort to update avalanche and landslide zones downtown. “If we get some big winters, it’s not inconceivable that the whole center could be taken out. It would be a shame to lose that whole building in one fell swoop,” he said.
Hanna also said that rapid technological advancements could mean the vote-by-mail process is soon obsolete and that spending money on a center now could prove a poor investment in the future. He added that the issue of voting by mail could be divisive and suggested that the city “take a step back and look to see what’s out there” before proceeding.
“We need to look at things we can all agree on rather than promulgating things that are more controversial,” he said.
The assembly will hear additional testimony and discuss the matter at its Sept. 13 meeting.
• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at email@example.com or 907-308-4891.
A surplus warehouse at 1325 Eastaugh Way, off Thane Road, 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. On Monday, City Assembly members heard public feedback on the proposal. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)