Legislators call on state to use Anchorage’s secure drop boxes in the general election

A group of Anchorage Democratic legislators is asking the state to work with the municipality of Anchorage to expand the availability of ballot drop-off boxes in the city ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.

In a letter sent Friday to Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, the group asks the state to borrow the municipality of Anchorage’s secure drop boxes and deploy them around the city to make it easier for voters to return their ballot and avoid in-person voting amid the pandemic.

“The only way to ensure that Anchorage voters can successfully submit their votes to arrive on time is by adding additional secure drop boxes throughout the MOA. With the possibility of more significant changes coming to the USPS in Alaska, we must guarantee that Alaskans will have the peace of mind that their ballots will be counted and postmarked correctly if submitted by the November 3, 2020 deadline,” argues the letter signed by Sens. Bill Wielechowski, Tom Begich, Elvi Gray-Jackson and Reps. Matt Claman, Harriet Drummond, Zack Fields, Andy Josephson, Geran Tarr, Chris Tuck and Ivy Spohnholz.

Anchorage implemented by-mail voting several years ago, conducting this year’s April local election with 18 secure drop boxes. According to the city clerk’s report on this year’s elections, more than 34,000 ballots were returned to secure drop boxes, or about 48% of total returns.

As of Friday, 72,697 voters have applied to vote absentee in the general election. More than half of those voters—35,824—reside in the municipality of Anchorage.

In an interview, Wielechowski said he has yet to hear back from the state but has been frustrated by what seems to be the state’s reluctant attitude to expanding voting opportunities during the pandemic.

“Fundamentally it’s about making it easier. You’d think people would be interested in making it easier to vote,” he said, referencing the emerging troubles with the USPS. “We know that historically in Anchorage that huge percentages of people vote by drop box and I have many low-income people in my district who don’t have cars and don’t have ways to get to drop boxes. For them to have one location in all of Anchorage was definitely a challenge. Anchorage is larger than the state of Rhode Island and to have just one drop box in the entire city falls short.”

The state of Alaska has borrowed four total ballot drop-off boxes from the municipality, placing them in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Wasilla and Soldotna. There are no boxes anywhere in Southeast Alaska, including Juneau, or anywhere in rural Alaska.

Absentee ballots in those areas would have to be mailed back.

This isn’t the first time that groups have raised issues with the state’s approach to this year’s elections. In July, a lawsuit was filed against the state arguing that the state’s plan to mail out by-mail absentee applications only to voters 65 and older was discriminatory.

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