Senators Ask State To Release Voting Plan After Two Y-K Communities Didn't Receive Primary Ballots

Oct 8, 2020

Alaska state Sen. Donny Olson (left) and Sen. Lyman Hoffman (right)
Credit Alaska State Legislature

Two rural Alaska state senators want to make sure that every Alaskan has access to a ballot on Election Day in November. Democratic Sens. Lyman Hoffman and Donny Olson are calling on the Alaska Division of Elections to create a plan ensuring that every eligible Alaskan will get a ballot in their community.

Sens. Hoffman and Olson represent most of Western and Northern Alaska, an area filled with small, remote villages. Last month, KYUK reported that the Alaska Division of Elections did not send primary election ballots to one of these villages: Mertarvik in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The division said that it didn’t know people were living there, even though many villagers had relocated to Mertarvik, with assistance from the state, over a year ago. Another community, Newtok, never received primary election ballots.

Hoffman represents Mertarvik and Newtok. Olson represents Nome, where the regional election office is located. Olson alleges voter suppression, saying that the Alaska Division of Elections failed to do its job to give every eligible Alaskan their constitutional right to vote.

“It’s just unbelievable that this could have happened,” Olson said.

On Oct. 7, Olson sent a letter to the division, asking it to produce a plan that ensures every community will receive the required number of ballots for the people who are registered to vote there by Nov. 3.

"I request you produce a detailed plan with steps the Division of Elections will take to re-establish confidence for the upcoming general election," Olson wrote in his letter. "This is vital so all Alaskans can receive a ballot by mail, have access to a polling location, and have confidence the State of Alaska values their voice." [Read Sen. Donny Olson's letter to the Alaska Division of Elections.] 

In a press release, Sen. Hoffman also called for the division of elections to “outline their plan to ensure every rural Alaska community has access to a ballot.”

In an email, Alaska Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said that her division is planning to hold Election Day voting in Newtok. "Two workers have verbally committed to working," Fenumiai wrote. "An absentee voting official (AVO) has been secured for Mertarvik. We are working with the principal to secure a voting location in the school. Voting materials have been mailed to the AVO.  This information will be added to the early voting list on the division’s website as soon as it is received."

Fenumiai asked Hoffman and Olson’s help in securing election workers in rural communities. 

Anyone interested in serving as an election official in Western Alaska is encouraged to call the regional election office in Nome at 907-443-5385.