Soldotna resident Tyson Cox speaks in support of a joint resolution that recognizes recommendations made by the Election Stakeholders Group and tasks the borough clerk with exploring implementation of those recommendations at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna resident Tyson Cox speaks in support of a joint resolution that recognizes recommendations made by the Election Stakeholders Group and tasks the borough clerk with exploring implementation of those recommendations at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Assembly OKs exploration of election reform recommendations

The Election Stakeholders Group offered six recommendations to the borough assembly.

The borough clerk will explore how the borough could implement voting reform measures suggested by an election stakeholders group, after a joint resolution at Tuesday’s Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting recognized the group’s recommendations.

The Election Stakeholders Group — established by the borough Jan. 8, and tasked with researching ways to increase voter participation while conserving public resources — offered six recommendations to the borough assembly in their final report published in July. The recommendations include upgrading equipment to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, implementing a hybrid vote-by-mail and ranked-choice voting process, updating guidelines for the voter pamphlet, creating public outreach methods and changing how area service board positions are filled.

The joint resolution, which includes the borough and the borough’s incorporated cities, originally said the resolution “supports” the recommendations but was amended at Tuesday’s meeting to say the resolution “recognizes” the recommendations. The resolution narrowly passed with a five-to-four vote.

Tyson Cox, who served in the stakeholders group as a representative from Soldotna City Council, encouraged the assembly to support the joint resolution.

“This is to just explore the implementation of the recommendations,” Cox said during the resolution’s public comment period. “To explore them is probably a wise choice, because we do have a deadline on when these things need to be taken care of and I know that deadlines are coming very soon.”

Stacy Oliva from Nikiski asked the assembly to vote “no” on the resolution. She said she disagreed with some of the group’s recommendations, including one that would eliminate elections for service boards and opt for mayoral appointment.

“This plan proposes to possibly eliminate or bypass the ability of community members to elect representatives in their local communities,” Oliva said during public comment.

Assembly member Norm Blakeley said he did not support the resolution because he did not support the vote-by-mail hybrid recommendation.

“I don’t understand why we’re doing these types of things,” Blakeley said. “The vote by mail — if you don’t have enough integrity in you to get out and don’t process what’s going on in the community, and someone has to send you a ballot to vote by mail rather than getting out and doing all of your due diligence, and exploring that and listening to other people and what they have to say — I think this is an area where we don’t need to get into.”

Assembly member Kenn Carpenter also said he didn’t support the vote-by-mail recommendation.

“It’s a bad direction to go,” Carpenter said.

The hybrid structure outlined in the group’s recommendation has been used by the borough for over 20 years in the communities of Cooper Landing, Hope, Fox River, Moose Pass, Seldovia/Kachemak Bay and Tyonek.

The passage of the joint resolution does not implement any of the group’s recommendations, but directs the borough clerk to explore how those recommendations could be arranged. Any specific change to borough code would need to pass the assembly through regular public process.

“We’re not shoving anything down any one’s throat, but this resolution says this is what this group did,” Assembly member Kelly Cooper said. “We are charging the clerk and this group to explore implementation of these items and then one by one they’ll come to us and we’ll have the opportunity to have public hearings and we’ll vote ‘yes’ or vote ‘no’ and say this makes sense or this doesn’t.”

The borough election will take place Oct. 1.

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