Juneau Assembly makes by-mail elections permanent

Juneau mail-in ballots
Example Juneau mail-in ballots used for a demonstration during a tour of the city’s ballot counting center on Sept. 12 2022. (Photo by Paige Sparks/KTOO)

By-mail voting is now the default in Juneau, thanks to a change to local election code made by the Juneau Assembly on Wednesday.

The city has used mail-in ballots in local elections for the last three years. Wednesday’s code change makes by-mail voting the default “unless otherwise directed by the Assembly.”

Five residents spoke against the idea at Wednesday’s meeting. Most were concerned about election fraud. 

Karen Lewis said by-mail voting had changed the outcomes of the 2020 and 2022 elections, a theory widely debunked by national experts

“Mail-in ballots should strictly be used for military people who are overseas and people who cannot vote in person due to physical disabilities,” Lewis said.

Frank Bergstrom questioned whether it would significantly improve voter turnout.

“If the primary reason for going to ballots by mail was not achieved,” he asked, “What is the justification now for continuing on and expanding this policy?”

In October 2022, nearly 33% of registered voters participated in the municipal election. Nearly 31% did in 2021, while 43% did in 2020. Voter turnout was 31% in 2019.

Assembly member Christine Woll said it’s true the original intent was to increase voter participation. When analyzing the numbers, she said, it’s important to remember that voters are generally more likely to participate in highly contested Assembly races. 

“Someone just brought up that this last year, it actually decreased from the year before,” Woll said. “You’ll also remember that the Assembly races were completely uncontested last year.”

Mayor Beth Weldon said, in her experience, voter fraud isn’t a concern in Juneau.

“I would disagree with the folks that talked about the integrity of the elections,” she said. “It would be very, very hard, especially in the city – I can’t speak for the state or the federal – to vote twice or anything else.”

Weldon still objected to the ordinance. 

“I feel that Election Day is kind of sacred,” she said. “By voting by mail, I think we’ve taken some of the emphasis off of how wonderful it is to go out and vote.”

The ordinance passed in a 5-2 vote, with Weldon and member Wade Bryson voting no. Members Carole Triem and ‘Wáahlaal Gíidaak were absent.

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