A ballot is placed in a drop box during the City and Borough of Juneau 2022 municipal election.  (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Vote-by-mail elections now permanent in Juneau

Assembly voted for the change despite some public pushback.

Vote-by-mail elections will now be the default in Juneau after the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly voted for the continuance of the method after using it for the past three years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ordinance to make the method permanent passed 5-2 Wednesday evening during a special Assembly meeting. Mayor Beth Weldon and Assembly member Wade Bryson voted against the ordinance, while members Alicia Hughes-Skandijs, Maria Gladziszewski, Greg Smith, Christine Woll voted in favor.

Assembly members Carole Triem and ‘Wáahlaal Gíídaak Barbara Blake were absent from the meeting.

The option to vote in person will still be available, said City and Borough of Juneau Municipal Clerk Beth McEwen during a previous meeting, as it was during last October’s election.

McEwen said making by-mail elections a permanent option for Juneau voters will provide more accessibility for residents who are unable to go in-person or would rather fill out their ballot in the privacy of their homes.

Five residents took to the stand before the vote Wednesday to provide public testimony on the ordinance, all of which opposed making the method permanent, with many citing election fraud as a concern.

North Douglas resident Brad Rider said he thinks the decision to make the change permanent should be up to Juneau voters, and not the Assembly.

“It doesn’t make sense to me, our other way of voting in person worked better forever,” he said, continuing. “There is nothing wrong with in-person voting, I’m totally against this.”

Another resident, Karen Lewis, said vote-by-mail elections increase voter fraud and argued it changed the outcomes of the recent 2020 and 2022 elections. Claims of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election have been debunked by a variety of sources, including a report commissioned by former President Donald Trump. Baseless claims of fraud were less prevalent in 2022, and there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in those elections, according to federal officials.

In a recent interview, McEwen said there is little concern about any increased voter fraud activity with the permanent switch to by-mail elections as the default, as she said election officials saw no evidence of it during the past three by-mail elections.

Bryson said his vote against the change was “symbolic” and was meant to represent Juneau residents who are against the change, even though he knew the Assembly would likely pass the ordinance. He said he “liked the way things were before when everyone had to go in on Election Day” and didn’t want to see the change happen.

Weldon said she also chose to vote against the change, saying she “tolerated” by-mail voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, but said she thinks it’s important for people to all come together on one day to vote.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807.

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