When you cast your vote in Anchorage's municipal election, how do you know it stays confidential and safe? Election Educator Carolyn Hall said there are numerous safeguards in place.

Hall said the Ship Creek Election Center is always open to the public, but people need to sign in and be accounted for at all times. A large security screen shows feeds from numerous security cameras that record both inside the building and out.

"Should an issue arise, we can look back on it and see what was taking place," said Hall.

Visitors are asked to stay within a taped-off corridor that's been nicknamed "the yellow brick road". From there they can watch how the ballots are processed.

So far, more than 35,000 ballot envelopes have been returned to the election center. They are sorted by a machine that takes a picture of the signature and reads a barcode on the outside of the envelope that provides information about the voter.

"We have a couple of different ways to help validate that this is the proper envelope, this is the right election, and the right voter," said project manager Dennis Wheeler.

The signatures are then compared to signatures kept on file from the state's voter database. Hall said they don't have to be an exact match, but if there are questions about authenticity, a supervisor will step in and, if necessary, contact the voter with questions.

Hall explained that all of this is happening before the ballot envelopes have even been opened. Once they are, pairs of workers remove the voted ballots and separate them from the envelopes so there's no identifying information with the actual ballots. She pointed out that whenever the ballots are not being handled, they are kept under lock and key.

Hall said one thing workers are not doing with the ballots is counting them. Workers plan to start scanning them into computers soon, but the actual counting won't take place until the polls close on election day, April 3.

The Election Center is open to the public Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. The last organized public tour of the Center will take place Thursday, March 29, from noon to 1 p.m. Hall said voters with questions should call the voter hotline at 243-VOTE.

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