Assembly President Brent Johnson, Member Bill Elam and Vice President Tyson Cox appear during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Assembly President Brent Johnson, Member Bill Elam and Vice President Tyson Cox appear during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Assembly approves resolution guiding efforts to increase voter turnout

The Voter Turnout Working Group was established to explore options and ideas aimed at increasing voter participation

A set of recommendations generated by a group tasked with seeking ways to increase turnout for borough elections were adopted by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Voter Turnout Working Group was established by an assembly resolution on Aug. 1 and instructed to “explore actionable options and ideas … aimed at increasing awareness, participation and voting in location elections,” according to a resolution describing their recommendations that was approved Tuesday. The group held five public meetings and submitted their final report March 19.

Their recommendations include conducting a survey of borough residents that asks if they vote and, if not, why; creating a public outreach and education campaign about the election process; better promoting local elections; offering early voting; allowing distribution of absentee ballots by email; and advocating for the change of Alaska Statute describing “Special Needs Voting” to “Additional Needs Voting.”

The assembly gave unanimous approval to the amended resolution after roughly an hour of discussion. Further action based on all the recommendations will come as individual items before the assembly at an undefined later date, Assembly Vice President Tyson Cox, who sponsored the resolution, said.

Public comment was received from Norm Blakely, who encouraged the assembly to consider moving election days to align with state elections.

The group was told during committee meetings that they could not share election equipment between local and state elections, but Blakely pointed to the Matanuska-Susitna region, where people check in at one table and then receive both individual ballots — which they cast individually in two separate machines.

Blakely said the Mat-Su borough had also made changes to their borough’s term limits to align better with the state election cycle.

Assembly member Bill Elam successfully amended the resolution to include language saying that the survey described in the recommendation would include, as one of several questions, a question asking residents if the borough should align its election day with the state’s.

Elam also sought an amendment to cut the recommendation for allowing distribution of absentee ballots by mail, but the group voted to keep the item in the resolution on a vote of 6-2. Elam was joined by member Cindy Ecklund in voting for removal.

Elam and member Peter Ribbens questioned whether some of the actions described in the resolution were the borough’s responsibility.

“I would submit to you that the borough’s responsibility is to conduct concise, clear, secure elections,” Ribbens said. “I would submit to you that the borough’s responsibility is to eliminate impediments as we have the opportunity. I would also submit to you that the electorate bears a bit of responsibility as well in participating in the political process.”

Elam said that, as a candidate, the responsibility is his to get people to go out and vote for him.

Another recommendation by the group encouraging the borough to partner with local businesses to “offer 10% discount or perhaps a free cup of coffee when they presented their ‘I voted’ sticker” was unanimously cut from the resolution after Borough Attorney Sean Kelley said such a program would not be legal.

A full recording of the meeting, and the text of the resolution and other documents can be found at kpb.legistar.com.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

Assembly Member Peter Ribbens speaks during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Assembly Member Peter Ribbens speaks during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Assembly Vice President Tyson Cox speaks during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Assembly Vice President Tyson Cox speaks during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Norm Blakely speaks to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Norm Blakely speaks to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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