By the numbers alone, Anchorage’s first election held by mail has been a smashing success. Election Day was Tuesday, and almost 80,000 votes have already been received by elections officials, setting a record for the most ever cast in an Anchorage muncipal election. State elections officials have already been asking the obvious question: If it worked for Anchorage, could it work for the rest of the state? “I think it very well might,” said Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak and a member of the state’s elections policy task force. “If half of our population is voting by mail and it’s a good experience, why wouldn’t the rest of the state want to do that?”
In a 2017 report to the state Legislature, Alaska Division of Elections director Josie Bahnke said the state’s election system faces a swath of challenges: The state’s elections equipment is old and needs to be replaced. The state is under court orders regarding ballot accessibility. There’s an immense budget crunch.
Simply replacing elections equipment wholesale would cost $6.7 million, Bahnke said at the time, and wouldn’t fix other issues with the election system. Instead, Bahnke convened the task force and asked it to consider a simple question: If Alaska needs to replace its elections equipment, does it also make sense to examine the voting process at the same time?
This summer, the task force is expected to make a recommendation to Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who oversees the state’s elections system. Members will meet in Anchorage in May to examine equipment from different vendors and begin to finalize their advice.