Alaska election officials now say all voting precincts will be staffed on Election Day

two people voting
Alaska voters participate in the August elections. Some rural residents may not be able to vote in person on Election Day if the Division of Elections can’t hire and train a few more workers. (Katie Basile/KYUK)

Update, Thursday:

Alaska election officials now say that all of the polling precincts in the state will be staffed for Election Day, next Tuesday. 

“What a difference a day makes,” wrote Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai in an email announcing the turn of events Thursday morning. 

Fenumiai said the regional elections office in Nome, the lieutenant governor’s office and the group Get Out the Native Vote worked together to find more workers. 

“Names were given and phone calls were made and people – they decided they wanted to step up to make sure the voters in their community would have the opportunity to vote,” she said.  

The timeline for training is tight, but Fenumiai said it will work out. 

If you try to vote on Election Day and for some reason your polling place is unstaffed, Fenumiai said to reach out to the division as soon as possible. You can find your polling place at elections.alaska.gov.

Original story:

Alaska election officials are worried that they may not have staff to work Election Day next Tuesday in two rural communities. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, they’re looking to do last-minute hiring and training of election workers in the communities of St. Mary’s and Goodnews Bay in Southwest Alaska. Which is a lot better than how Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai started her day on Wednesday – uncertain about 10 rural communities. 

“It really does take a community effort in addition to the division’s outreach to find workers,” Fenumiai said. “Unfortunately, at this point, we’ve exhausted our contacts, to the best of my knowledge.”

That’s included working with the group Get Out the Native Vote and radio stations. 

In-person absentee voting may be available before Election Day in St. Mary’s and Goodnews Bay. The need is specifically for workers on Election Day. 

Interested workers should contact the Division of Elections’ regional office in Nome. Training would be done over video conference or phone. 

For prospective voters who live in a community without election workers, there’s still time to mail back an absentee ballot or to request an absentee ballot be delivered to them by fax or online. Those ballots would have to be returned by regular mail or fax. 

The division updates and maintains a list of where to vote on its website. 

Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, who has oversight duties with the Division of Elections, said that recruiting and retaining election workers is a bigger problem in rural Alaska. 

“A lot of the small villages, they have one person that just always does it,” Meyer said. “And if he or she is not available that day, then, you know, we’re just kind of out of luck.”

Meyer said he proposed a bill in 2021, House Bill 96 and its companion Senate Bill 83, that would let the division run elections by mail in communities with a population under 750 people if they can’t find workers. They died when the Legislature adjourned earlier this year. 

During the elections in August, an election worker shortage kept polling places from opening in two other southwest villages, Tununak and Atmautluak.

Find more election coverage and voter resources at alaskapublic.org/elections.

Want to know the story behind the story? Subscribe to Washington Correspondent Liz Ruskin’s newsletter, Alaska At-Large.

Jeremy Hsieh has worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He lived in Juneau from 2008 to 2022 and now lives in Anchorage.

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