Kenai Peninsula Borough IT Director Ben Hanson speaks with attendees at a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, at the Betty J. Glick Assembly Chambers in Soldotna, Alaska. The attendees were concerned about voting measures approved by the assembly aimed at improving borough election security. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Borough)

Kenai Peninsula Borough IT Director Ben Hanson speaks with attendees at a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, at the Betty J. Glick Assembly Chambers in Soldotna, Alaska. The attendees were concerned about voting measures approved by the assembly aimed at improving borough election security. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Borough)

Borough assembly approves election security measures

The new legislation only applies to borough elections. It does not apply to state or federal elections.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted Tuesday to approve measures aimed at improving the security and integrity of borough elections.

The legislation, which is sponsored by assembly members Jesse Bjorkman and Bill Elam, was first introduced in April and has been described as a way to codify the borough’s existing election protocols. The policies include, among other things, establishing a clear chain of custody for ballots during an election, publicly testing election tabulation machines, defining the rights of poll watchers and requiring personal identification for people voting absentee by mail.

The ordinance passed Tuesday does four things:

Changes existing borough code to say that the borough election board must announce the total vote tally and sign the final results tape and that at least two board members need to transport election materials to the election supervisor;

Adds a new “Election Integrity and Security” chapter to borough code;

Clarifies the requirements for people voting absentee by mail;

Applies the new chapter to the borough’s election canvass board.

The new legislation only applies to borough elections. It does not apply to state or federal elections.

Section 1

Section 1 of the legislation passed by the assembly on Tuesday amends existing borough law related to the closing of the polls.

Specifically, it says that the borough’s election board has to announce the total vote tally and sign the final results tape after the polls close. Additionally, at least two members of the election board must transport election materials and the election tabulator to the election supervisor.

Section 2

Section 2 of the legislation passed by the assembly on Tuesday adds a new chapter to borough code called “Election Integrity and Security.” That chapter includes eight subsections aimed at codifying, or writing into code, the borough’s existing election processes.

The second subsection, titled “Elections Security,” describes the steps taken at each stage of the election process and to ensure the process is secure. For example, the legislation discusses how ballots will be secured en route to polling locations, how absentee ballots are bundled, how the borough Election Board will inspect the tamper-evident seals on voting equipment and how ballot containers.

The third subsection explains how ballot tabulators will be tested for security. Tabulators are the machines used to count ballots. Under the new legislation, tabulators used for borough elections will be tested publicly two times before election and audited after the election. If any discrepancies are identified, a recount will take place before the affected precinct before results are certified.

A test of tabulating machines is considered successful if it perfectly counts test ballots and functions properly while counting those test ballots.

The fourth subsection says that all materials used to test tabulation machines must be sealed by the testing authority and cannot be unsealed unless necessary to conduct further tests, criminal investigation or other official proceedings.

The fifth subsection outlines the chain of custody for ballots, including the transfer of ballots from a polling location to the central ballot counting center. A chain of custody document must accompany each ballot shipment, with access to the secured area limited to election personnel.

The sixth subsection explains the process for determining whether a voted questioned or absentee ballot is eligible to be counted. Questioned and absentee ballots are reviewed by the canvass board.

The seventh subsection explains what to do if a ballot was unable to be counted by the tabulation machine. In that instance, the Canvass Board will tell the voter to put their ballot in the tabulator’s emergency compartment. After the polls have closed, the board will feed the emergency ballots through the tabulators. Those ballots that are still not counted by the tabulator are put in an “uncounted ballot envelope” and later reviewed and counted by the Canvass Board.

The eighth and final subsection says that candidates and “interested parties” can appoint a poll watcher at each voting place. The legislation defines an interested party as any initiative or referendum sponsors and parties that “timely submitted statements supporting or opposing initiative or referendum.”

Per the ordinance, poll watchers have the right to “observe” how the election is conducted, monitor the preliminaries of opening the polls, stay at the polling place through the election, observe ballots as they are counted and observe absentee ballots when called during the count.

Additionally, poll watchers will be allowed to see oaths administered and signed, the record of assisted voters, the list of qualified voters, the poll list and other records connected to the election.

Poll watchers must be sworn to “faithfully observe the rule of law prescribed for the conduct of elections” and must be a resident and qualified voter of the State of Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Election officials cannot serve as poll watchers.

Poll watchers are not allowed to take pictures or make copies of ballots, lists or records and are not allowed to “disturb” or “attempt to influence” voters, campaign at the polling place or wear campaign material while inside a polling place.

Section 3

Section three of the legislation passed by the assembly on Tuesday clarifies the absentee vote-by-mail process for borough elections.

Borough voters must request an absentee ballot from the borough via an application that can be sent in via email, fax or mail. The borough clerk then sends the voter a ballot. After a voter casts their ballot, they place it in a small envelope, then place that envelope in a larger envelope and sign a certificate on the back. The certificate must be signed in the presence of an official as described by the new legislation.

Officials eligible to determine the authenticity of the voter’s signature include a notary public, a commissioned officer of the armed forces including the National Guard, a state court judge, a U.S. postal official or other people “qualified to administer oaths.”

The new legislation also requires voters casting an absentee ballot by mail to provide ID that show either the voter’s date of birth, the last four digits of their social security number or their voter identification number.

All suspected instances of voter fraud, misconduct or plural voting must be reported by the borough clerk to the Alaska attorney general.

Sections 4 and 5

Section four of the legislation passed by the assembly on Tuesday applies the policy revisions to the borough’s election canvass board. Section five makes the changes effective immediately.

More information on the legislation passed Tuesday can be found on the borough’s website at kpb.us.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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