More than 60 percent of voters who responded to the informal survey tucked inside the mail-in ballots during the consolidation election back in August said they liked the new process.
The state Division of Elections received about 5,700 survey responses from Fairbanks North Star Borough voters during the election, which was held completely using mail-in ballots. The election was to decide whether or not the city and borough governments should be consolidated -- which voters answered with an overwhelming "no."
It was the first boroughwide mail-in election in Fairbanks and the largest ever mail-in election conducted in the state.
In this one-issue special election -- no elected offices were being determined -- voter turnout was expected to be light, as it usually is in such situations. Officials hoped that using the mail-in method would spur higher turnout.
In the end, about 16,000 of the registered 67,000 voters responded by returning their ballot, which is just less than 24 percent. Those aren't bad numbers, relatively speaking, considering turnout in the October election -- which determined numerous local elected officials including Fairbanks mayor -- had a dismal turnout of about 13 percent in the city and 14 percent in the borough.
Yes, the system works best when more people participate in elections: When more voters participate, the ultimate decision is more representative of what the people want. And that should be the ultimate goal of any election.
However, we should take care not to make voting so easy that the process is taken for granted even more than it already is.
Some of the respondents on the survey said that the mail-in ballot process was better because it meant avoiding long election lines. The sad truth is that poll workers in the October election reported so few voters that they actually became bored during the interim lulls. Our society may have plenty of problems, but long lines at the voting booth is not one of them.
Using this mail-in ballot method for issue-only special elections may actually increase voter turnout -- which is good. But remember that easier isn't always better.
Our election system works best when we have not only a respectable turnout, but also informed voters who are making informed decisions for the future of their community.
So, the issue should not be simply how to make voting easier. Rather, it should be how to encourage more people to care enough about voting that they are willing to stand in line if necessary to cast their ballot in an informed way.
The real problem isn't that it is difficult to cast a ballot the old-fashioned way. It's that not many people care to go through the trouble.
-- Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
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