The state Division of Elections wants to hear from Bethel area residents on Monday and Tuesday about how best to improve the election system.
Indra Arriaga heads up the effort for the Division. She says that the state has to do something because the voting machines in use are so old that they can’t get parts anymore.
“We need to address the aging equipment no matter what,” Arriaga said. "And so we see this as an opportunity to create a different and more robust relationship with all the voters, especially the voters in rural Alaska."
Arriaga also heads up the Division of Elections’ effort to produce election material in the state’s indigenous languages. She says that because many of the people who speak these languages can’t read it, she does not see the state moving to an all-mail ballot as Anchorage did.
“If the language component cannot be delivered in whichever new way that’s considered, then we won’t go with it because we have a mandate. We have a legal mandate, but we have our responsibility as Alaskans to make things accessible.”
Arriaga says that the division is holding focus groups and conducting statewide surveys to help it determine how Alaska's elections will look in the future.
“The division is not pushing one thing or another,” she said. Instead the division is presenting various options. “It could be mail, it could be we stay with things the way they are, it could be we find a hybrid system that’s a combination of different methods. What would work? And that’s the question we have for the folks in Bethel. What would work for you? Would it work to have a voting center with a bilingual worker that’s staffed for the two weeks or three weeks before the election? How can we make it more accessible?”
This Monday and Tuesday the division is holding three focus groups in Bethel and is still looking for people interested in participating. They are particularly looking for more participants within the 17 to 25-year-old demographic for Tuesday afternoon.
“Seventeen to 25, you’re going to be voting soon. This is a way to let us know what voting method works for you.”
Arriaga says that each focus group is expected to take two hours at most. If you want to participate in any of the three focus group being held Monday and Tuesday in Bethel, please contact her at 907-952-1959.
“Or they can send us an email. We really, really need their input and this is a great opportunity for them to come and tell us what would work for them.”
The state Division of Elections hopes to have crafted a new system to place before legislators and the public before the 2020 elections.