Absentee in-person voting starts Oct. 20 in Homer

Absentee ballots can be mailed or dropped off at Homer City Hall

Absentee in-person voting for the November election starts next Tuesday, Oct. 20, at Homer City Hall for southern Kenai Peninsula voters.

By now, voters who have requested mail-in absentee ballots should have received their ballots.

The Alaska Division of Elections has issued about 115,000 absentee by-mail ballots, said Tiffany Montemayor, public relations manager for the division.

“We’ve never had this large amount of absentee voting,” she said. “… That’s a significant portion of votes that are going to be cast in the election.”

That follows a trend set in the City of Homer election last week in which of 1,901 total ballots, 823 were absentee ballots.

One big change happened after ballots for the general election were mailed out. On Monday, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in a court case, Arctic Village Council v. Meyer, that only one signature — that of the voter — is required on mail-in ballots, according to a press release from the plaintiffs, the Native American Rights Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Alaska, the village council and individual plaintiffs Elizabeth L. Jones and Barbara Clark.

Previously, mail-in ballots required a second signature, a condition the plaintiffs asserted posed an unconstitutional obstacle that would have burdened voters, especially in rural villages, who for health reasons had to quarantine because of the COVID-19 pandemic and could not easily get a second signature.

In Homer, voters will not be able to do early voting, which is a slightly different process in which voters cast regular ballots ahead of the Nov. 3 general election and have their ballots counted on the evening of Nov. 3. There are limited early-voting locations in Alaska, with the nearest locations in Anchorage.

Southern peninsula voters can cast absentee ballots in person. They also can turn in mailed ballots at Homer City Hall during regular business hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday during the absentee voting in-person period through Nov. 2. There is a secure drop box outside the clerk’s office doors on the lower level where documents for city officials can be dropped off outside of business hours. That is not an official Alaska Division of Elections secure drop box, but city clerks will put any absentee ballots dropped in the box with the ballots delivered or cast during business hours and send them daily to the state, said Deputy Clerk Renee Krause.

Voters also can request ballots via email or fax up to 5 p.m. on Nov. 2. The deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail is Oct. 24. Up to Election Day, special needs ballots can be picked up to be cast and delivered by the end of election day. Special needs ballots are for anyone with a health issue — including those in isolation or quarantine because of COVID-19 — who cannot physically visit a polling place on Election Day.

Montemayor emphasized that absentee ballots in person, mailed in and hand delivered will all be counted together. Under the Alaska Division of Elections plan, the absentee ballot count starts Nov. 10. Mailed-in ballots must be postmarked by or on Nov. 3. For ballots mailed in the United States, they must be received by Nov. 13. Ballots mailed outside the U.S. must be received by Nov. 18. The target date for certifying the election is Nov. 25.

Vote tallies will be announced after the start of the count on Nov. 10. For potential nail-biter races, as happened when former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich defeated the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008 after Stevens had a lead on Election Day, the result might not be known for three weeks.

“It is taking a long time,” Montemayor said. “That doesn’t mean anything is wrong or has happened. It’s going to take a long time.”

Alaska is one of a handful of states with a long ballot-return time. Montemayor urged voters to cast and return absentee ballots as soon as possible.

“Vote it and send it back. You can be more confident it’s going to arrive on time,” she said.

Voters can check the status of their returned ballots on their My Voter web page at myvoterinformation.alaska.gov. For general voter information, visit www.elections.alaska.gov.

Voters also can download special “I voted” stickers for 2020 designed by Alaska artist Barbara Lavallee that say “I voted” in English, Spanish, Koyukon, Gwich’in, Aleut, Tagalog, Alutiiq, Northern Inupiaq, Nunivak Cup’ig and Yup’ik. The images “depict the diversity, strength and power of Alaskan women,” according to the Alaska Division of Elections website. Download images to put on social media at www.elections.alaska.gov/Core/ElectionStickers.php.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.