Anchorage launches ballot tracking system

The Anchorage Municipal Clerks last week announced the launch of a new ballot tracking system that will allow voters to get updates on their mail-in ballots throughout the election process.

The system, AnchorageVotes, is run by BallotTrax and has been deployed in several other cities, counties and states over the last two years and will allow voters who sign up the ability to track their ballots and, importantly, get notification if they have any issues that may prevent their vote from being counted.

“Currently, voters can call the voter hotline and find out if their ballot has been received and the status, but that requires voters to initiate a phone call,” Deputy Clerk Erika McConnell told TMS in an email. “We have researched best practices regarding vote by mail, and automated ballot tracking is a significant accepted best practice. Our visions statement is to ‘increase voter turnout by engaging with the community in fair, accurate, and transparent elections,’ and ballot tracking provides transparency by allowing voters to see where their ballot is in the process and giving them confidence that their ballot has been received and has been counted, if appropriate, in an automated timely manner.”

Importantly, the system will also make it easier for voters to be aware of potential issues that may prevent their vote from counting. During the 2021 municipal elections, Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones told the Anchorage Assembly that the city was in the process of strengthening its signature verification system in aims of catching cases of fraud but noted that it was a tight-rope act, stressing the need for voters to use their official signatures.

“It needs to be your official, legal signature. Regrettably, sometimes people are using their Carr’s grocery store signature and I have a Carr’s grocery store signature and the difference is problematic for us. … Think about what’s on your driver’s license because some of the reference signatures on file are from the DMV,” she said at the time. “This is an important place to stop fraud. This is part of the way the system works. There’s a push and a pull, there’s a balance there. We would like to find that nice tightrope that we’re walking down where we’re rejecting signatures from people who are not the voter and are accepting signatures from the voter.”

McConnell said the new system will make notifying voters on that front easier.

“The system will send an alert if there is a problem with a voter’s ballot,” she said. “The voter will be notified to watch for a letter informing them of how to cure the problem (Municipal code requires this letter). And if the voter cures successfully, they will get an alert that their ballot is being processed for counting.”

Such a ballot tracking system was one of the many things proposed in an omnibus elections bill proposed by conservative Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Shower earlier this year. In presentations, his office and backers of the plan compared the system to a Domino’s pizza delivery tracking system, but the system went far beyond what BallotTrax would offer with a requirement that votes and ballot status be tracked in a publicly available blockchain system—akin to what is used for Bitcoin and NFTs—that was generally panned by anyone familiar with such technology.

The introduction of the ballot tracking system on the Anchorage level is not likely to settle other conservative consternation with voting. The city’s by-mail election system has long been the target of baseless accusations of voter fraud and an initial version of Shower’s bill would have even barred the city from holding by-mail elections altogether.

Conservative Mayor Dave Bronson has also pushed for an end to by-mail elections, arguing it’s one of the reasons to elect more Bronson-friendly conservatives to the Anchorage Assembly in the upcoming election.

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