Region IV election office gears up for primary elections
While national headlines are filled with stories about the presidential candidates, the primary elections are rapidly approaching and Alaska State Division of Elections offices are buzzing with activity.
In the upcoming August 16 primary election, voters will select their party candidates for a U.S. Senate seat, currently held by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R), and for the House of Representatives seat, currently held by Don Young. According to the Alaska Division of Elections website Democrats Edgar Blatchford and Ray Metcalfe, Republican candidates Lisa Murkowski, Paul Kendall, Thomas Lamb and Bob Lochner, and Libertarian Cean Stevens are running for the Senate seat. Running for Congressman are the Republican incumbent, Republicans Gerald Heikes, Jesse “Messy” Tingley and Stephen Wright, Democrats William Hibler, Lynette Moreno Hinz and Steve Lindbeck, and Libertarians Jim McDermott and Jon Watts.
Also up for election are Alaska State Senator Donald Olson and Alaska House District 39 Representative Neal Foster. Both are running unopposed.
There is no ballot measure on the primary election ballot.
The Nome office in the state building resembles a busy beehive. “The Region IV office is staffed by two full time employees, the supervisor and the assistant supervisor,” said Region IV Supervisor Angelique Horton, who started to work in the position in December 2015. “During election season in the even numbered years — primary and general election years — I have 3 to 4 temporary employees that work generally from June through mid-December. In addition to the office staff, regional offices recruit four election board workers per precinct as well as absentee voting officials in most of our precincts.”
On Friday, two temporary workers were busy to help Horton, her assistant Monica Giang and part-time employee Katie O’Connor with the task to pack the bright red ballot bags that go out to 106 precincts that are served by the Nome office, an area that spans four House districts, from Kaktovik in the north all the way to the Aleutian Island chain in the south. That is nearly one fourth of all Alaskan precincts, as there are 441 precincts in the entire state.
During an early visit to check on the supplies in the Nome office, Division of Elections Director —and former Nome city manager — Josie Bahnke in May took note on what needs to be reordered and restocked. Sending the appropriate equipment out to the precincts is a monumental effort. TSX voting machines are packed in special boxes and need sometimes special delivery.
Not only do election workers send out the obvious as in sample and official ballots, question and special needs ballot oath envelopes, precinct registers, language assistance packets (containing each a handbook for bilingual election workers and translators, glossary, Language Assistance request log, translated sample ballots) and posters that are required at the polling stations. In the bag also go items such as strings measuring 200-feet (no electioneering within 200 feet), flashlights, tape, “I voted” stickers (in five different languages), handbooks and election worker training DVDs.
According to Horton, election preparation for her region begins as early as January or February with the recruitment of election workers, absentee voting officials and polling places. Recruitment continues up to election time. February and March is the time to reorder forms and supplies. “Once we start receiving our forms and supplies, the temporary workers start the tedious chore of sorting, counting and labeling supplies, forms and posters for each precinct for each election (Primary, REAA and General),” described Horton. In June and July worker training occurs.
This year, reports Division Director Bahnke, the training was done via teleconference. “Our Division conducted the first live web streamed Election Worker training at the @360 North Studio in Juneau,” Bahnke wrote in an email to the Nugget. “The 4-hour training included approximately 80 election workers from Juneau (in-person), Ketchikan and Kodiak. Future trainings are scheduled around the State that will be streamed, recorded, placed on our website and DVD’s made for precincts that aren’t able to attend in-person or don’t have the bandwidth capacity in their communities.”
Bahnke said the effort saved the state $225,000 in travel costs. The 2014 primary election cost $1.65 million, according to Bahnke.
Since the settlement of a lawsuit last year, the state’s Division of Elections is required to translate ballots and create an elections glossary in six dialects of Yup’ik and also Gwich’in. Language assistance is available in the appropriate dialect in the different areas of Region IV, said Horton. Language assistance information and election information is available in Tagalog, Spanish, Yup’ik, Siberian Yupik, Inupiaq, Koyukon Athabascan and Gwich’in Athabascan at https://elections.alaska.gov/la.php
Bahnke said in an interview with the Nugget that in an effort to fulfill the division’s core mandate to “ensure that every qualified voter has an opportunity to cast a ballot and vote” there are several efforts to make voter registration easier. On May 27, Governor Walker signed SB 9 into law, which allowed the Division to join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a system used in 21 states. This, Bahnke explained, is a sophisticated system of cross-matching voters with other states and making it easier to update vital statistics, and to identify eligible voters. “Our Division’s tech staff is moving forward with ERIC and DMV for data integration and we hope to conduct our first PEW funded mailing to ‘Eligible but Unregistered’ list before well before the General Election,” Bahnke said in a follow up email.
In the general election, ballot measure 1 proposes an act that would allow qualified individuals to register to vote when applying for a permanent fund dividend.
For now, the red bags are packed and in the mail to reach all four House Districts in Horton’s Region IV in time for the primary election on August 16. The packing of more bags will occur before the 2016 Regional Educational Attendance Area (REAA) elections on Tuesday, October 4 and the 2016 General Election, scheduled for Tuesday, November 8.