Current DOE voting process continues to disenfranchise Alaskan communities, specifically rural Alaska during COVID19 pandemic
Anchorage, AK – Several Alaska organizations sent a letter to the Division of Elections and Lt. Gov Kevin Meyer, calling on the Division of Elections to immediately increase direct action to carry out their constitutional obligation to ensure every Alaskan, no matter their location or circumstance, has the ability to vote safely in the elections.
Native Peoples Action Community Fund (NPACF) has talked with hundreds of voters, many in rural Alaska, to make sure they know how and where to vote in the upcoming election. It is clear that there are significant information gaps about how COVID19, and in particular, how communities placed on “lockdown” are impacting voting options. Complicating matters further, many voters in rural communities do not have access to fax or email options for electronic voting. Additionally, the communication from DOE about the “special needs voting” option has been scarce.
Over the last few weeks, and more frequently the week leading up to the November 3rd elections, we continue to hear from voters in rural communities who are unsure how to (or afraid to) vote while their community is on lockdown from COVID19. So far, we’ve heard these concerns from Chevak, Nunapitchuk, Quinhagak, Akiachak, Mountain Village, and Clarks Point. The list continues to grow daily as case counts increase.
Additionally, the number of comments we have received around what can only be described as voter disenfranchisement has become increasingly alarming. Due to COVID19, there are hundreds of voters who do not know if and how they are able to vote in person on election day due to lack of communication and inaction from the Division of Elections. We also know that there are several communities that still do not have poll workers, multiple individuals have stated they have not received their absentee ballot after applying for one, and with a number of Tribes have requested PPE, at least one stating they did not receive any PPE from the Division of Elections. Other Tribes have stated they did not have enough PPE to safely carry out the elections. This is unacceptable.
“Every Alaskan not only deserves, but is constitutionally guaranteed, the right to vote. However, the stories from across the state clearly demonstrate a dereliction of duties from the Division of Elections and Lt. Governor whose primary responsibility is to carry out Elections,” stated Kendra Kloster, Executive Director of Native Peoples Action Community Fund. “Every single vote in Alaska matters. Every single voice, no matter how remote their location is, needs to be afforded the same opportunities to vote. I understand we are in a pandemic, but we have clearly seen a lack of planning and insufficient or no backup plans to make ballots easily available for everyone who wishes to vote.”
Alaska’s constitution expressly guarantees the right to vote as fundamental. Article V, Section 1 provides, in pertinent part, “Every citizen of the United States who is at least eighteen years old, who meets registration residency requirements which may be prescribed by law, and who is qualified to vote under this article, may vote in any state or local election.” In addition, Article V, Section 1 guarantees that “all persons are equal and entitled to equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law.” (Alaska Constitution, Article V, Sec. 1). “The Alaska Constitution also enshrines absentee voting, “Methods of voting, including absentee voting, shall be prescribed by law.” (Id. Art. I, Sec. 3).
In the last few months we have seen lawsuits brought forth from individual Alaskans and organizations to challenge the witness signature and the Division’s decision to send absentee ballot applications to only those who are age 65 or older. It has been up to individuals to look out for the voting rights of our neighbors with the tenacious fortitude to push for equal voting rights.
We are calling on the Lt. Governor and the Division Elections to adequately staff and compensate election workers in every community immediately, increase efforts to ensure communities have the necessary PPE, provide absentee ballots to anyone who has applied for one. Furthermore, we request that the Lt. Governor and Division of Elections work alongside our organizations to make policy reforms that will better serve all Alaskans.
We need an election system that will not continue to silence Alaskan voices. We are looking for immediate active leadership to address and work to solve these issues aforementioned and a stated and tangible commitment to updating necessary policies, regulations and procedures that will make it easier to cast a ballot in all our elections.