Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on every vote counts:

Posted: Monday, December 04, 2000

As we grimace and groan at the ignoble posturing over presidential votes down south, it strikes us that Alaska's election system offers the nation a sterling example of fairness and accuracy.

Take absentees. Each application for an absentee ballot in an Alaska state election has a box for voters to check off should they expect to be overseas. Voters who so indicate are sent a special advance ballot 60 days before the election and urged to return it without delay. Those advance votes are forwarded to Juneau and held for counting if, and only if, the voter's regular absentee ballot arrives late.

Military voters in Alaska may be interested to hear that the absence of a postmark doesn't disqualify an otherwise legal absentee vote.

''If it's witnessed on or before Election Day and we receive it within 10 days, we'll count it,'' said Shelly Growden, the state's Interior regional elections chief.

A late postmark is a deciding factor, however, since officials likely even open the tardy submission to review the other information. For that reason, all absentee voters are advised up front to return their ballot ASAP.

Elections officials all tout the benefits of Alaska's standardized ballot, eliminating a major source of voter confusion elsewhere. Another advantage comes from this state's broad use of Accu-Vote ballot readers, which catch most improperly completed ballots in time for immediate correction.

Still, the spirit driving Alaska's elections system is best defined by the effort mounted to tally all legally cast votes.

Can you imagine the outcry if this state, following the example of California, simply dispensed with counting tens of thousands of absentee votes because they weren't deemed sufficient to alter the outcome of state or local elections. The decision, defended as a cost saving move, has come under fire from critics who note those uncounted absentees, if valid, might affect the final margins in the national popular vote for president.

Fairbanks North Star Borough Clerk Mona Lisa Drexler can't conceive of an omission of that nature coloring Alaska elections. ''It doesn't matter (if it's going to affect the election result), that shouldn't be a determinate. We count all ballots received in the proper time frame,'' Drexler said. ''To not process a ballot. I find that amazing.''

In her work supervising local elections, Growden recalls receiving at least a handful of absentees from individuals known to have also returned the special advance ballots. As of Thursday, elections officials in Juneau were still processing final district results and it remained unknown how many of those special ballots will be counted in place of regular absentees that missed the deadline, or were never received.

But all Alaskans serving overseas and others who took advantage of the provision for voting early can rest assured: their choices will be reflected in the state's final tally.

Alaska's diligence perhaps comes from frequent experience sorting out the results of elections decided by a handful of votes. It could be the result of close familiarity with mail delays and travel complications inherent in a sprawling, largely undeveloped state dotted with far-flung Bush communities. It may also reflect the influence of a citizenry and legislature closely acquainted with the voting difficulties posed by jobs that take a person away from home for extended periods -- on the trapline, the oil field, the remote mine or hunting camp.

Whatever the reason, we can all take pride in observing that Alaskans give more than lip service to counting each and every valid vote.

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