A team of people worked Thursday morning to ensure that new voting equipment to be used in the upcoming Kenai Peninsula Borough municipal election is operating correctly.
Stationed in the Betty J. Glick Assembly Chambers at the borough’s administration building in Soldotna, the team of testers included Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship, Soldotna City Clerk Shellie Saner and Soldotna City Librarian Rachel Nash, as well as Linda Cusack and Teri Birchfield, who work for the canvass board.
“It’s different,” said Cusack of the new machines, which include ballot tabulators and ballot markers that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Those ballot markers look like big iPads, with tall touchscreens and hand controls marked with braille, as well as printers that print the marked ballot once completed.
Marked ballots, once printed, are then checked to make sure that the printed ballot matches the one marked on the screen, and are run through a tabulation machine. Tabulation machines were tested by running stacks of test ballots through them to see if they tallied the results correctly.
The borough’s acquisition of ADA-compliant voting equipment came after a complaint was filed with the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights by a voter who alleged that the borough discriminated against him by failing to provide a voting machine that accommodated his vision disability during the 2015 municipal election.
The commission offered the borough a conciliation agreement, instead of proceeding to a public hearing, that required the borough to adopt a voting system that allowed for private, independent voting by visually impaired citizens. The borough could have satisfied the complaint by adopting a hybrid election system that increased mail-in voting, but that option was defeated by borough voters during the last election cycle.
Blankenship said Thursday that the process of testing voting equipment has always been open to the public, but was made more accessible due to sweeping election policies approved by the assembly earlier this year aimed at improving the security and integrity of borough elections.
“This is the first time that we have done it in (these) chambers and have the doors open and made it more accessible, because that was what the new code requirement was,” Blankenship said Thursday. So far, she said, everything has gone smoothly.
Blankenship said that there haven’t been many members of the public stopping by the borough assembly chambers to watch the testing process, but that there have been visits from other city administrators, including from the Kenai and Homer city clerk’s offices.
“We’re all working together, Blankenship said. “This is everybody’s election.”
More information about the Oct. 5 municipal election can be found on the borough clerk website at kpb.us/assembly-clerk/elections/election-information.