CBJ Assembly member Wade Bryson’s recent statement on KINY Radio that 336 ballots were declined for lack of post marks reveals yet another reason why mail-in voting doesn’t work. Bryson suggested that voters should personally witness postmarking by the postal clerk. Some assembly members have said that the matter needs to be addressed and have called for U.S Postal officials to appear before the assembly to discuss solutions. We’ve all seen this rodeo: postal managers, like other government officials in other such failure situations, will gravely offer solutions such as better employee training and putting more emphasis on processing ballots as opposed to other mail. In reality, at the deck plate level, little will change because postal employees have many impacts on their time and all are important.
Why is the assembly trying to fix an inherently broken system? There are several fallacies with their approach. First, most polling places are by design closer to where voters live than the four post offices in Juneau. If you can’t be sure that your ballot is postmarked without going to the post office to witness it being postmarked, why not go to a closer poling place where the staff is solely dedicated to processing your ballot. The post offices, on the other hand, are tasked by law with handling a myriad of duties from packages to passport photos. Polling places have the additional advantage of verifying voters against the list of registered voters, as well as maintaining a much more secure chain of custody for the ballots. It’s a tried-and-true system that has worked fairly flawlessly for generations.
Our mail-in ballot alternative is proving to be bug-ridden and rife with potential for abuse. The convenience of mail-in voting quickly dissipates if voters have to take their ballots to the post office to witness post marking. The justification that mail-in voting increases voter turnout was undermined in the last election in which the turnout percentage was comparable with traditional municipal elections.
Why are we continuing to do mail-in elections? It costs more, it’s a waste of resources if 27,000 ballots are mailed out, but only about 4,000 are returned, and over 300 of those are declined due to lack of postmarks. In addition, we’ll never know how many were lost in the mail. The city is spending money to renovate a warehouse for mail in ballot processing. It seems that this system requires one work around after another. All of this for a process that has less accountability, more inconvenience, and more cost. The end of the pandemic is in sight. By next election, there should be no reason to keep polling places closed.
• Rick Currier has lived in Juneau since 1989. He votes regularly, and has provided citizen input to the Docks and Harbors Board, the Planning Commission, and the City Assembly.