Homer firm gets tough job of printing ballots

Posted: Sunday, July 28, 2002

Reapportionment coupled with the state's new primary election law requiring a half dozen separate party ballots adds up to a heavy workload for employees with the Alaska Division of Elections, said the director of that division, Janet Kowalski.

"With six separate ballots and 40 Alaska House districts, there is the potential need for 240 different ballots -- one per party per district," she said.

For the first time, however, those hundreds of thousands of ballots are being printed by an Alaska company, Print Works of Homer, rather than by an Outside firm. In the past, Alaska ballots have been printed in San Francisco and Seattle.

"We are really excited about bringing it home," Kowalski said.

Election ballots have very special printing requirements, she said. First, ballots are printed on a special paper and it takes special printing machinery to handle them. Each ballot must have precise markings on the edges to alert the optical scanner vote-counting machines used by the state which of the six ballots is being fed in. Finally, it is critical that the state be able to account for every single ballot printed. They are numbered.

"For printers, it's a nightmare," she said.

Sample ballots have been printed and are now undergoing rigorous testing to ensure the voting machines will function Aug. 27, she said.

"So far, things look great," said Kowalski.

Printing ballots is big business. Some four or five large Outside companies print 98 percent of all state and local ballots across the country, Kowalski said. The state has been looking for an in-state printer capable of doing the job for years, she added.

"It is exciting that a local business was able to invest in the right equipment," she said.

Kowalski said Friday she was unable to locate a document containing the exact number of ballots to be printed and staffers who would know off hand were out of the office. However, she said the price was approximately 31 cents a ballot.

If a ballot were printed for every one of the 450,141 Alaskans registered as of June 26 (elections division data) the cost would be nearly $140,000. However, Kowalski said the actual number of ballots to be printed might be greater and the cost higher.

Print Works owner Kevin Fraley declined comment.

The biggest unknown is deciding exactly how many of each ballot should be printed, given that some locations may see more people asking for one ballot over another, said Kowalski.

In any case, all used and unused ballots will be accounted for. That goes even for the ballot that may be torn up by a disgruntled voter, she said.

"Yes, we'll account for that one, too," she said.

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