Despite the pandemic, Alaska’s primary and general elections to follow normal voting process

Sen. Kevin Meyer addresses the Alaska Senate, Feb. 10, 2014. (Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Alaska’s primary election will be held using the normal voting process, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer announced on Friday. 

He said there will be additional safety measures at the polls for the Aug. 18 primary, and the state will promote the options of voting absentee by mail or voting early. 

“The voters will have multiple choices come this election and they will and should pick the one they’re most comfortable with,” Meyer said. 

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Meyer said he’s focused on the primary, adding that he plans for the state to use the same process for the Nov. 3 general election. He said no one knows what the COVID-19 situation will be in November, and there isn’t much time between the elections to make a major shift in how the general election is conducted.  

Meyer said the state will follow the normal process even if there is a surge in cases before the primary. 

“Obviously, if we saw a spike in cases, we would certainly highly, highly promote,” absentee or early voting, he said.    

He said the Division of Elections will be prepared for even the worst situation. All voters who choose to vote in person will be given latex gloves to sign their names and mark their ballot. And voters without a mask will be provided one. Meyer said election workers will be given face shields. 

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But the state faces a challenge in recruiting election workers. 

Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai has asked current election workers if they want to return. 

“She’s concerned, in the sense, that only about half have said, ‘Yes, you know, we’re willing to come back,’ and the other half had said, ‘Well, you know, we’re just not sure how safe it’s going to be,’” Meyer said. “So we know we need to get a bench of workers, and we need to recruit more people.” 

Meyer said the state is looking to be creative in recruiting workers, including reaching out to Parent Teacher Associations to adopt a precinct.

Those who want to stay at home will have to request either a Republican ballot or the ballot for other parties’ primaries. Alaskans registered with parties other than the Republican party can’t vote in the Republican primary, while any voter can vote in the other primaries.

Absentee ballot requests must be received by the Division of Elections at least 10 days before each election.

Meyer expressed concern about the idea of sending both primary ballots to every registered voter. He said that would lead to hundreds of thousands of unused ballots. 

“That’s 600,000 unsecured ballots that are either sitting in the post office, sitting on your kitchen table, or in the garbage can,” Meyer said. “And that’s very concerning to us.”

Voters can also vote early, up to 15 days before the election, at 165 different locations.

Meyer said that the more people who vote early or by mail, the smaller the lines will be on election day. He added that keeping in-person voting allows the state to accommodate voters who don’t speak English, as well as those with special needs. 

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Meyer said a similar primary election process worked well in Nebraska. The state saw a record-high number of votes on Tuesday. 

The Legislature passed a law allowing the state to hold elections during the COVID-19 public health disaster emergency entirely by mail. But Meyer chose not to follow that process.

Meyer said he had worked with Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum and state Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink to determine the safest way to hold the elections. 

Meyer also cited the state’s number of cases, which are relatively low when compared to other states, as a rationale for his decision.  

As of Thursday, one more Alaskan tested positive for coronavirus and one non-resident did who is currently in the state as well. That brings the state’s total number of cases to 388. And, according to state data, about 88% of the people who have tested positive for the virus have recovered so far.