With the Oct. 6 election looming for the Kodiak Island Borough, many citizens in outlying villages still had not received mail-in ballots as of Friday.
Kodiak Island Borough Clerk Alise Rice, whose office runs local elections, said a cascade of problems has caused the delays.
Ouzinkie Mayor Elijah Jackson estimated on Friday that close to 70% of people in Ouzinkie had not gotten their mail-in ballots to vote in Tuesday’s election, where seven candidates are running for three seats on the borough assembly.
“We don’t have our ballots. We want to vote; we want our voices heard,” he said. “So we’re trying to figure out what is going on.”
Port Lions Mayor Dorinda Kewan said ballots were arriving there, but not everyone had gotten them just yet.
“We got some two days ago, and some more arrived yesterday. But we do have some registered voters who haven’t received theirs,” she said on Friday.
Earlier in the summer, Kodiak Island Borough Assembly approved shifting all voting precincts where fewer than 100 ballots were cast in the last election to vote-by-mail only, as a safety measure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ouzinkie, Port Lions, Old Harbor, Cape Chiniak and Kodiak Island South (Larsen Bay) were all designated as vote-by-mail precincts. Ballots would be mailed to those residents, and they would vote and mail them back. In the 2019 elections, 59 people voted in Ouzinkie, 37 in Port Lions, 44 in Old Harbor, 24 in Larsen Bay and 35 in Chiniak.
But issues arose with the printing of the voter pamphlet, delaying sending out ballots to villages. Unlike in Kodiak, where the pamphlet is sent out on its own, the villages would receive the pamphlet, the ballot, a return envelope, a secrecy sleeve and instructions for voting.
That means delays in printing the pamphlet caused delays in sending out the ballots.
Rice said that when the pamphlet was printed in Anchorage, it contained two printing errors caused by mechanical issues with the printing press. Those needed to be corrected. But time was running short. In the borough code, the clerk legally has to send out the pamphlet, and in this case voting materials, to voters 14 days before the election.
The borough passed an emergency ordinance at its Sept. 17 meeting to allow for a shorter window for mailing, down to seven days.
Rice said the corrected pamphlet was later sent to a Homer print shop. The Homer office then stuffed the 800 or so envelopes headed to residents of outlying villages. Then it was mailed out to everyone on Kodiak.
“The mailing went out to the villages on the 23rd of September,” Rice said.
Island Air delivers mail to Port Lions and Ouzinkie at least five times a week. Weather has canceled a few flights in the past week, Island Air CEO Adam Lutz said, but mail was still going out.
“Mail has been delivered to both of those locations multiple times this week,” Lutz said.
Kewan said she thought there hadn’t been enough time to conduct the process properly.
“We’re a little concerned that the process the borough has adopted due to circumstances beyond their control really excludes some of our voters from being able to vote,” she said.
“I know the borough clerk has tried her very best to make things happen, but I don’t think the borough assembly gave the borough clerk enough time to make this happen this year in terms of getting the process well-defined.”