Anchorage authorities are asking people to keep an eye out for attempts to steal ballot packets mailed to residents in this year’s vote-by-mail municipal elections, after dozens of packets were reportedly stolen then found in a Chugiak neighborhood this week.

Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones’ office sent out a statement saying the 46 ballots were reported stolen Friday and returned to postal officials.

“The location of the reported theft was in the vicinity of Whispering Birch Drive, Oberg Road and Deer Park Drive,” elections officials wrote. “The ballot packages turned in to the Chugiak Post Office were damaged and wet.”

Carolyn Hall, an elections spokeswoman for the clerk’s office, had high praise Friday night for the person who turned in the packets.

“This is someone who did the right thing: they were honest, they were diligent, they saw the potential for something to go awry,” Hall said. “It was on a snowbank and it looked like mail theft, and they discovered that there was indeed some scattered mail and ballot packets were among it.”

It wasn’t clear Friday whether the packets had been specifically targeted by whoever stole the mail, or whether they were acquired incidentally in a larger theft. Hall said no suspects had initially been identified, but deferred detailed investigative questions to Anchorage police and postal inspectors.

The clerk’s office didn’t have any immediate concern about the election’s integrity, Hall said, because clerks have multiple means of detecting and preventing any duplicate votes. The office can also invalidate and resend any stolen ballot packets once they are reported missing, which is being done with the Chugiak ballots.

In the meantime, election officials are asking locals who discover any other stolen ballot packets to contact Anchorage police and the municipal clerk's office at 343-4311, then destroy them in order to prevent their misuse. If a packet is delivered to an incorrect address, Hall said, recipients can write “UNDELIVERABLE” on the packet and return it by mail free of charge, which lets clerks know they should review the mailing address in question.

“It takes all of us as a community to ensure this is a safe and secure election,” Hall said. “We do hope that citizens will be diligent and aware of misplaced ballot packages.”

Anyone with information on those responsible for Friday’s ballot theft is asked to call APD at 907-786-8900, or contact Anchorage Crime Stoppers at 907-561-STOP or through its website.

Hall said an unrelated issue may cause voters to have ballots they opted to mail back returned to them, although no cases have yet been reported. The potential snag tracks back to weight issues, associated with failing to remove the “I Voted” stickers for personal wear mailed with outgoing packets.

“The USPS does tell us that if voters are not following the instructions in this case – i.e., they are not removing the ballot stub from the top of the ballot and not removing the ballot sticker, it is likely that the return envelope will be too heavy for a first-class stamp to carry,” Hall said.

Although this year’s vote-by-mail election, the city’s first, is in its early phases, Hall said muni officials are considering possible changes based on what they’ve observed thus far.

“We are taking detailed notes, and we are taking notes from a number of qualified stakeholders for ideas that we are going to consider for future elections,” Hall said.

Mailed ballots must be received by Election Day, on April 3. A map of locations where ballots can be dropped off through April 3 is available on the muni’s elections website.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story inaccurately said some voters had actually had mailed ballots returned to them due to mailing-weight issues.

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