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Voting from home

Vote-by-mail ordinance to be introduced

Posted: May 15, 2014 - 8:15pm

This year’s October election could see more Kenai Peninsula Borough residents casting votes from their kitchen tables.

An ordinance requiring borough elections be held by mail is up for introduction at Tuesday’s assembly meeting.

Assembly member Bill Smith sponsored the ordinance, which proposes that instating vote-by-mail precincts borough-wide would be more efficient, convenient, save money and could increase voter turn out.

“We’re hoping that we’ll get some good results if we go to vote by mail and make it easier for people and have better voter turn out,” Smith said.

The ordinance calls for ballots to be mailed to each registered voter in the precinct 15 days before the election. Ballots must be postmarked on or before midnight of Election Day and received by the following Tuesday. Return envelopes addressed to the borough clerk’s office will be provided. The ordinance also allows for ballots to be deposited at a designated deposit site.

If the assembly passes the ordinance as is, precinct polling places would be eliminated. However, voters would still be able to vote in person at absentee voting sites.

Absentee voters can apply and vote in person at the borough clerk’s office at the George A. Navarre Administration Building in Soldotna, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Annex office in Homer or the nearest city clerk’s office beginning 15 days before Election Day.

Of the 28 precincts within the borough, six are absentee-by-mail only and four of those have absentee voting stations on Election Day.

Current absentee-by-mail return envelopes have prepaid postage.

Smith said the borough hires more than 120 election workers and changing over to vote-by-mail would reduce that number. However, to send out ballots by mail, costs would increase for additional printing and postage.

Borough Clerk Johnie Blankenship said she is working to determine what the cost difference would be to change to a vote-by-mail election. She hopes to have a fiscal note available for the public hearing on the ordinance.

In addition, the ordinance looks to repeal publishing statements supporting or opposing propositions in the informational election brochure. Smith said the seven-year section of code allowing for the statements has been an issue in the past when only one side of an issue submits its position. He said this creates an “impossible balancing act” for the clerk.

“I don’t see that it’s much of a loss or any loss to the public discussion because of the potential for abuse,” he said.

He said discussion about separating the two halves of the ordinance did take place, but because they are part of the same topic and section of code, they were combined. Assembly can amend the ordinance to separate either section of the ordinance. If the assembly passes the ordinance, it would be in effect upon enactment and would be in place for the Oct. 7 borough election.

The ordinance is scheduled for a public hearing at the assembly meeting at 6 p.m. on June 17 at the George A. Navarre Administration Building in Soldotna.

Kaylee Osowski can be reached at kaylee.osowski@peninsulaclarion.com

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