Ballot by mail: Down to the wire for Kodiak Island Borough

Please note:  This story has been updated to include a late breaking development from the Kodiak Island Borough clerk’s office, to assist voters who did not receive mail in ballots.

Elections are never easy in Alaska’s smallest communities. And this election day is especially problematic in the Kodiak Island Borough’s outlying communities.

As of Tuesday’s election day,  some voters still had not received their mail-in ballots.

In Ouzinkie, there were hopes the ballots would be on Tuesday morning’s mail plane.

“Our mail guy had to go pick up some 170 pounds of mail,” said Elijah Jackson, the Mayor of Ouzinkie. “It’s down to the wire. Today’s the last day. We definitely want our voices heard.”

Jackson says it’s an American right to have your voice heard though the ballot box.

Earlier this year, the Borough Assembly took steps to protect this right from impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. It created Ballot by Mail precincts in communities with fewer than 100 voters in the last election. Those are: Chiniak, Larsen Bay, Old Harbor, Ouzinkie and Port Lions.

From election pamphlets that had to be reprinted — to bad weather — to the ballots that were mailed to the wrong address — a cascade of problems delayed the Borough’s efforts to get voting materials out to its off-road communities.

Elizabeth O’Dell, a voter from Chiniak, said there’s another problem — that ballots may have been going to the wrong address, because hers was incorrectly sent to Larsen Bay.

“My tax bill comes to the right place. My trash bill comes to the right place.” O’Dell said. “I feel bad that people aren’t going to have an opportunity to vote.”

Alice Rice, the Borough clerk, says there are some hopeful signs that most voters got their ballots.

“The ones that I’ve been receiving have been postdated on the 1st and 2nd of October, which tells me that things got there pretty quickly, so that’s really encouraging,” Rice said. “That tells me that they at least got into the hands of the villages.

Unless ballots are postmarked by midnight Tuesday Oct. 6, they will not be counted. Rice says she has come up with an option for voters who did not receive ballots. They are to ask their city clerk for a printed version of the ballot. After the ballot is cast, the clerk will cover it with a secrecy sleeve, put it in another envelope with the voter’s name and address and then mail it so it can get the election day postmark.

Rice said one solution might have been to fly staffers from her office to the BallotBy Mail Precincts, but time had run out for that.

Her hope is that the Borough Assembly will pass a measure that would move up the timetable for candidates to file for races, which would give the clerk’s office more time to send materials to the off-the-road system communities.

Rice takes responsibility for the address mix-ups, but says many of this year’s problems were frustrating and beyond her control.

“It’s character building, and hopefully it will never happen again,” she said.

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