A massive delivery at Anchorage's election center Monday morning means big changes are ahead for voters. The Muni's interest in transitioning to vote-by-mail started in 2014, and now, three years later, the last piece of equipment needed to make it a reality has arrived.
“It’s like Christmas,” deputy clerk Amanda Moser exclaimed, as five large wooden boxes were unloaded. “This is a huge part of our transition to vote by mail, so this is a really exciting day."
The first vote by mail election couldn't happen this year as planned because the Muni was still waiting on the equipment.
Monday, workers unpacked a Bell and Howell signature verification and envelope sorting system, the largest ticket item the Muni needed to purchase within its $1.1 million appropriation for the transition project.
“Voters will receive a ballot package in the mail and it'll have their ballot, their ballot return envelope, their security envelope and any voter information they need,” explained Moser.

Once the ballot is thoroughly filled out on both sides, the voter can place it inside a security envelope, then inside the return envelope, and either send it through the United States Postal Service (postmarked by election day) or drop it off at one of 12 secure drop box locations across the city, which will be emptied daily during the election season.
The new machine comes into play once the envelopes arrive at the election center. Once sorted to be signature side up by election workers, they’ll go into the machine, which can process 18,000 envelopes every hour.
“The system will sort the envelopes, it'll take a snapshot of the signature from the voter and will confirm there's been only one envelope received back from this voter, and our workers will confirm this signature on the envelope against the signature that we have on file. Once the worker has confirmed those signatures are a match, it'll signal the machine to export that envelope and it will be sorted out that it's ready to go, it's a confirmed, qualified, registered voter,” said Moser.
Moser said the cost of the last election was budgeted at $636,580. The purpose of switching to the new vote by mail system is to increase voter turnout, better prevent voter fraud and eventually, years in the future, hopefully, spend less on elections.
For those nostalgic for the old way, there will be a few locations where voters can still cast their ballot in person, like City Hall. But for the most part, operations will be moved inside the election center, where instead of hiring roughly 650 election workers, they’ll only need 40 to 60.
The next Muni election isn’t until April of 2018, but Moser says they'll be doing tests with the new equipment, and even a mock election, to get ready.