Three ideas are fundamental to the workings of a democracy:

  1. The open and unrestricted access to a secret ballot by all adults.
  2. A ballot secured by competent administration from accidental or purposeful disclosure of a voter’s ballot choices.
  3. The use of a paper balloting system that assures the auditing and accurate hand counting of voting results when those results are challenged.

The non-partisan League of Women Voters has roots in the Women’s Suffrage Movement of the 1920s. The national League is constant in their support, protection and advocacy of these foundational ideas that undergird and reinforce our American Democracy. I’m a long-time member of the Juneau League. I’m pleased that the League has invited me to write about my experience with Alaska’s statewide election system.

When compared with the county-based election systems in many states, Alaskans are fortunate in that our integrated system of voting precincts statewide is administered under Article 15 – Elections of Alaska’s Constitution. Alaska’s Division of Elections has an appointed director working under the authority and supervision of the lieutenant governor. Today, the lieutenant governor is Byron Mallott, formerly of Yakutat, and the elections director is Josie Bahnke, formerly of Nome.

I participated in the statewide election system by my appointment to membership on the non-partisan State Review Board (SRB) created under AS 15.10.180. In the interests of full disclosure, I represent Alaska’s Democratic Party on the SRB.

In the polling place on Election Day, most poll workers are paid not much more than Alaska’s minimum wage. They are, essentially, volunteers who work one or two days every other year.

Poll workers need a working knowledge of the machines and software used for scanning and recording a voter’s ballot choices; they need to know how to communicate the vote totals at the end of the day; they need to know how to complete forms required for reporting requirements; they need to know how to work with voters unhappy — as in the Primary election this past August — with complex rules surrounding access to either the open American Independence, Democrat or Libertarian (“ADL”) ballot, or the restricted “Republican” ballot; they need to know how to deal with intense, possibly unfriendly, political scrutiny by poll watchers, or news media.

The voter must have confidence that his or her political choices are secret, and his or her ballot is in goods hands. The interplay of diverse human interests with complex and sophisticated rules rooted in statute must appear to the voter to be trouble-free. While training is an essestial part of time on the job, there are in this election cycle nearly 2,200 workers who staff the state’s 441 precincts. There is much to learn. Errors are rare, but no single training program can guarantee that there will be no errors in such a complex system scattered across hundreds of communities and thousands of miles.

SRB members are subject to the call of the elections director before and after each statewide election. Before an election the SRB tests machines, ballots and procedures before they are distributed to the precincts in advance of Election Day.

After Election Day, the work of the SRB begins with a review of all the precinct’s Election Day paperwork by two person teams. Each team member represents a different political party or interest. The 441 precincts within Alaska’s 40 Legislative Districts are distributed for team review by their locations within Alaska’s four judicial divisions. at least one precinct in each district is randomly selected for a full count of actual ballots, and review of all documents and ballots associated with absentee and question ballots.

If the team finds a discrepancy in a precinct’s paperwork, the SRB can ask the director’s staff to bring all the precinct’s ballots up for a review and recount. When all discrepancies are resolved, each SRB member must “sign-off” by certifying the review work of all the teams. Any questions about the work of other teams must be asked and answered before certification. In the recent 2016 primary election, all precinct reviews were certified by all SRB members.

Please vote an absentee ballot after Oct. 27, or vote a regular ballot in your polling place on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Contributed by LWV Juneau member Jerry Smetzer.