This photo shows a City and Borough of Juneau ballot mailed to a local resident in September. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

This photo shows a City and Borough of Juneau ballot mailed to a local resident in September. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Expansion of voting rights, including voting by mail, should have bipartisan support

Anything else is unAmerican.

  • By Kimberly Metcalfe
  • Monday, October 11, 2021 4:43pm
  • Opinion

By Kimberly Metcalfe

I read with interest three recent My Turns regarding voting by mail penned by prominent Juneau Republicans: Cathy Munoz, former Alaska House member and current Deputy Commissioner of Labor (“Will your vote count?”), Paulette Simpson, past president of the Alaska Federation of Republican Women (“The lost joys of in-person voting”), and Cathy Boutin, past officer of the Capital City Republican Women (“Remember the good old voting days?”). These complaints by Munoz, Simpson and Boutin seem to be an attempt to undermine the City and Borough of Juneau’s recent change to a vote-by-mail system.

The move to voting by mail has taken hold because of the pandemic, but voting by mail has been working for the state of Oregon since 1998. Washington state adopted mail ballots in 2005 for some counties and expanded it to all counties by 2011. Colorado adopted mail ballots in 2013, and Hawaii in 2019. The practice is not new, and is very popular with the voters in those states. The Municipality of Anchorage adopted mail balloting in 2018, and it has worked well there.

Like many who support expanded access to voting by all eligible Americans, I have watched with horror at the erosion of voting rights beginning with the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Like areas of the Deep South, Alaska was one of the states that had to receive pre-clearance if changes to voting laws could be considered discriminatory against protected minorities. Alaska’s sad history of discrimination against our Indigenous people put us in that category.

Combine that with recent voter suppression laws enacted by Republicans ranging from a Georgia law that makes it a crime to hand out water to voters waiting in line to vote, a Texas law limiting ballot drop boxes to one per county (including Harris County, home of Houston, the largest city in Texas), to laws purging voter rolls, more and more stringent voter ID laws, shortened time periods to return absentee ballots, and a Florida fine of $25,000 for election supervisors who leave drop boxes unsupervised. Add to that, an attempted coup—an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by members of the Republican Party to overthrow the 2020 presidential election!

Making it easier for people to vote should be applauded by people of all political persuasions rather than criticized and demeaned. Voting is the bedrock of our democracy.

I am proud of our Assembly for enabling Juneau residents to cast their ballots by mail. The system works, there is no evidence of fraud, and there is no evidence that voting by mail favors one party over the other. Problems with ballots going to the wrong addresses or to the wrong people are not unusual when a switch from in-person to mail ballots is made. There are ample checks on ballots against voter rolls when they are received at the election center, and for instance, a ballot returned by someone who is no longer an Alaska voter is not accepted.

Yes, it was nice to see the smiling faces of election officials and neighbors at the polling place, but it’s also nice to vote a ballot at home, then mail it off or deliver it in person at city hall or the valley library. The change to mail ballots may take time for people to get used to, but if it gets more people to cast their votes and participate in our democracy, who can complain about that?!

Republicans and Democrats should wholeheartedly support expansion of voting rights including voting by mail. Anything else is unAmerican.

• Kimberly Metcalfe is a lifelong Democrat and the former Democratic National Committeewoman for Alaska.

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