Lt. Governor calls for more poll workers in Western Alaska ahead of primary election

A manila "vote here" sign hangs in a white room with an election worker in blue sitting at the table.
Nome voters’ polling place for upcoming elections is Old St. Joe’s. (Photo from KNOM)

State primary elections are on August 18. Alaskans have three choices for casting a vote this season: early voting, absentee voting, and in-person voting on Election Day. But state officials are concerned that in Western Alaska there may not be enough workers to operate the polls.

With the coronavirus spreading in Alaska, Lieutenant Governor Kevin Meyer told KNOM that voting absentee can be particularly useful for elders and other high-risk individuals. The Lieutenant Governor understands that village residents may be especially concerned about the security of their ballots being received in the mail.

“Absentee ballots do require a witness and they do require a personal identifier on them so we feel that they’re secured. We feel that the mail has been pretty reliable for us, especially in the summertime,” said Lt. Governor Kevin Meyer

Absentee ballots must be requested by August 10 in order to be counted towards the primary election. Those can be requested online.

But in order to conduct in-person voting, Meyer stressed that the state desperately needs poll workers. Historically, many retired people and elders have worked at the polls but this year many are sitting it out over coronavirus concerns. Meyer is encouraging lower-risk individuals to consider applying for those paid positions.

“You will have a mask or shield, your choice, or both if you want. You’ll have gloves, hand-sanitizer and disinfectant wipes,” he said.

Voters will also be asked to wear masks and practice social distancing when entering their local polling places.

The Division of Elections is offering emergency pay of $15 dollars an hour for poll workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, employee training can be done virtually.

In some Bering Strait communities, like Diomede and Elim, there are currently no workers signed up to staff the voting booths on Election Day. Meyer said the state may need to look at other options if no one applies.

I would probably call somebody there in the tribal government and just ask if we could use their office building to accept people’s absentee ballots. So everybody would just be voting absentee on Election Day which isn’t the best way to do it, but we’ll do whatever we have to, to make sure people have their right to vote,” he said.

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