Here's one weird, proven trick to cut the number of mail ballots rejected by the State of Alaska
Hint: It was put on hold in 2020, a year where every single legislative district saw its lowest rejection rate on record.
Good afternoon, Alaska!
In this edition: The slate for this year’s special election is set after the latest batch of results from the division of elections. Meanwhile, the state’s rejected ballots are now up to 6,205 and pressure is growing on the Division of Elections for answers and action to address a situation where 1 in 8 mail ballots cast from rural Alaska have been rejected and won’t count in this election. Meanwhile, as promised, here’s one weird, proven trick for the state to significant cut the rate at which mail ballots are rejected (hint: We don’t have to look too far back to find an election where a vast majority of all ballots from all parts of the state were counted).
Current mood: 😠
Rejections, pressure over rejections grows
With the latest release of ballot statistics on Wednesday, the state is now reporting that 6,205 ballots have been rejected across the state. That brings the rejection rate across the state to 4%, up from 3.5% on Monday. We saw a significant uptick in rejections for ballots in the Fairbanks area where all six of the region’s legislative districts now sit above a 4% rejection rate with the city of Fairbanks district currently sitting at 6.51%. The rejections for the Fairbanks region total 1,188 ballots.
Pressure on the state for answers is also growing.
Alaska Public Media reporter Wesley Early, who originally flagged the high rejection rates in rural Alaska, published a story today on the issue and the corresponding pushback from the Senate Democrats. Neither Early nor the legislators have been able to get anything back from the Division of Elections, which is telling folks to wait until after the election is certified to get a better look at the rejections. On that front, it also appears that the state’s ballot tracking system won’t tell you whether your ballot has been rejected and you’ll be waiting until 10 days after the certification of the election for the state to mail you a notification your vote wasn’t counted.
After the Senate Democrats sent their letter yesterday, Native Peoples Action has joined the conversation with a four-page letter sent to Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and legislators seeking answers on the rejections, what the state did to reach out to districts with high proportions of non-English speaking voters and what it’ll be doing in the future.
“By rejecting an astounding number of special election primary ballots, the State of Alaska is silencing the voices of our people who turn out to vote, many who are already facing increased barriers to voting access,” said NPA executive director Kendra Kloster in a prepared statement accompanying the letter. “We call on Alaska’s leadership to heed the call from Alaskans: take action to ensure that when our people turn out to vote that all our voices are heard, and our votes are counted. Without a voting system that will ensure all Alaskan voices are counted and heard, the State of Alaska is failing our people.”
Native Peoples Action is also calling on legislators to consider changes that would address this problem in the future, including a special session. Legislation that would’ve introduced a process to fix any problems with your ballot—known as curing—got attention this session but ultimately failed to pass. Even if it had, though, it would not have been in place in time for this special election.
At this point, the most likely remedy to the rejected ballots in time for it to make a difference in this election is a lawsuit.
Also, while curing is an important tool in elections, it won’t solve the issues created by an unequal distribution of resources or break through language barriers. It’s easier for the ballots to be accepted on the first go around rather than a hope that the notification and curing process breaks through whatever barriers created the problems in the first place.
And, hey, if we’re looking for an effective way to reduce the number of rejections, then we don’t have to look very far back in our own state’s history.
The witness signature is clearly a burden
Yesterday’s stroll through the world of charts and graphs showed that the high rejection rates have always been a part of Alaska’s election system but that it ultimately didn’t amount to much because most people were voting in other methods, such as in-person voting or early voting. Sure, there were some years where districts produced eye-popping rejection rates, but they often amounted to less than a fraction of a fraction of all the votes cast in those elections.
If we’re looking for solutions, though, let’s look at when in the past six elections on record the state accepted the highest portion of mail ballots:
Yep. That’d be the 2020 general election when the courts put the state’s witness signature requirement on hold due to the pandemic, with the courts finding that it served as an unconstitutional limitation on voting during a pandemic (which is definitely not still going on) and had no legitimate purpose that overrode the constitutional concerns about access to voting.