Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Swollen list of voters adds context to turnout

 


Ever wonder why Haines’ voter turnout percentages seem low?

Local elections officials reported the official turnout for the recent municipal election at 45 percent, or 1,031 ballots cast from a possible 2,283 eligible voters in the borough.

The number of eligible voters may seem high, especially when it’s compared to the state’s most recent population estimate for the Haines Borough: 2,493, including children.

That’s because the state’s list of voters includes people who left town years ago, convicted felons prohibited from voting, and some residents who recently died.

A list of eligible voters provided by the state Division of Elections about two weeks before the Oct. 4 municipal election included Layton Bennett, Marge Matthews, Erma Schnabel, Larry Zehe, Nellie Dale and Charles Belaski – all whom died in the past two years.

A quick look at just the beginning of the list – voters whose last names begin with “A” or “B” – reveals former residents who haven’t lived here or voted here for several years. These include Gary and Henriette Arenson, Michael and Kaci Ahmuty, Clare and Pete Andriesen, Dave Ammon, Kate Baerloch, and Carolee Bass.

The reasons voters remain on the list years after they stop voting here have to do with logistics and state law, said Lauri Wilson, a regional election supervisor for the State of Alaska.

“Alaska law allows people to maintain Alaska residence for voting if they have intent to return to Alaska,” Wilson said. “Alaska statutes don’t define a length of time to determine intent to return. People can be away for school or military service… as long as they don’t register or vote in another state, they can maintain that.”

The state purges rolls of eligible voters. But for voters who have moved away and not registered or voted in another state, or who have not contacted the state, that can be an eight-year process, Wilson said.

The names of voters who don’t cast ballots in two, successive Alaska elections – or four years – goes into “inactive purge” status, triggering the state to send an inquiries to the voters. If no contact is made following two additional statewide elections, those voters names are removed from the list, Wilson said.

The reason some voters’ names stay on the list after death has to do with how that information gets to the state. Wilson said her office receives information on deaths from the state Division of Vital Statistics, as well as from families and obituaries.

“It takes a while to get that information… wherever we get that information from,” she said. A cursory review of the names of the deceased on the voter registration list suggests that those who die in Alaska are removed sooner than those who die in the Lower 48.

Some inactive Haines voters now living in the Lower 48 said in interviews this week they haven’t gotten around to changing their registration, although this year’s national elections are an incentive.

Michael and Kaci Ahmuty last voted in Haines in 2012, the year they left Haines. They lived in New York for a year and moved to Bend, Ore. Kaci Ahmuty, a cancer patient, said life “has been kind of crazy” for her family and she doesn’t know Bend well enough to vote in elections there.

Kaci said she registered to vote in Oregon this week to cast ballots in the national presidential election. Remembering to register and vote was easier in Haines than it is down south, Ahmuty said. “In Haines, you know it’s time to vote. It’s in your face.”

The Arensons lived here nearly 25 years before moving to Long Pond, Maine in 2014. Henriette Arenson said the couple registered to vote in Maine about six months after arriving there, but she wasn’t particularly surprised she was still on the list here.

Her daughter stayed on the list about eight years after leaving Haines, she said. “I think it’s probably harder to take voters off the rolls than put them on, and rightfully so, but the state should do a little better job,” Arenson said.

The state’s list includes 340 or more voters registered in Haines who have not cast ballots since at least 2006.

Borough clerk Julie Cozzi, who oversees local elections, said the state’s registration list is a concern to her because it skews turnout figures.

There’s no way for the borough to purge the state’s list, Cozzi said.

“Borough election officials encourage people to update their voter information by sending change of addresses to the state. Also, we make forms available for people to report voters who have passed away,” Cozzi said.

 
 

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