Legislature(2019 - 2020)DAVIS 106

05/19/2020 10:00 AM STATE AFFAIRS

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10:22:31 AM Start
10:23:31 AM Presentation(s): Vote by Mail
10:50:55 AM HB150
10:52:37 AM Presentation(s): Vote by Mail
11:31:01 AM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Heard & Held
+ Presentation: Vote by Mail by TELECONFERENCED
- Wendy Underhill, NCSL
- Barbara Jones, Municipality of Anchorage
- Amber McReynolds, National Vote at Home
                    ALASKA STATE LEGISLATURE                                                                                  
             HOUSE STATE AFFAIRS STANDING COMMITTEE                                                                           
                          May 19, 2020                                                                                          
                           10:22 a.m.                                                                                           
MEMBERS PRESENT                                                                                                               
Representative Zack Fields, Co-Chair (via teleconference)                                                                       
Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Co-Chair                                                                                
Representative Grier Hopkins (via teleconference)                                                                               
Representative Andi Story (via teleconference)                                                                                  
MEMBERS ABSENT                                                                                                                
Representative Steve Thompson                                                                                                   
Representative Sarah Vance                                                                                                      
Representative Laddie Shaw                                                                                                      
OTHER LEGISLATORS PRESENT                                                                                                     
Senator Lora Reinbold                                                                                                           
COMMITTEE CALENDAR                                                                                                            
PRESENTATION(S): VOTE BY MAIL                                                                                                   
     - HEARD                                                                                                                    
HOUSE BILL NO. 150                                                                                                              
"An Act  requiring state elections  and local elections  that the                                                               
state  is responsible  for conducting  to be  conducted by  mail;                                                               
requiring certain vote-by-mail ballots  and election materials to                                                               
be  provided in  certain  written languages  other than  English;                                                               
establishing   an  online   ballot   tracking  and   registration                                                               
verification system; establishing voting  centers and ballot drop                                                               
boxes; eliminating  the use of polling  places, absentee ballots,                                                               
and questioned  ballots in certain  elections; and  providing for                                                               
an effective date."                                                                                                             
     - HEARD & HELD                                                                                                             
PREVIOUS COMMITTEE ACTION                                                                                                     
BILL: HB 150                                                                                                                  
SHORT TITLE: VOTING BY MAIL                                                                                                     
SPONSOR(s): REPRESENTATIVE(s) KREISS-TOMKINS                                                                                    
05/01/19       (H)       READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS                                                                        
05/01/19       (H)       STA, JUD, FIN                                                                                          
05/19/20       (H)       STA AT 10:00 AM DAVIS 106                                                                              
WITNESS REGISTER                                                                                                              
AMBER MCREYNOLDS, CEO                                                                                                           
National Vote at Home Institute (NVHI)                                                                                          
Denver, Colorado                                                                                                                
POSITION  STATEMENT:   During the  hearing on  HB 150,  presented                                                             
NVHI's best practices policy suggestions for voting by mail.                                                                    
WENDY UNDERHILL, Director of Elections and Redistricting                                                                        
National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)                                                                                
Denver, Colorado                                                                                                                
POSITION STATEMENT:  During the  hearing on HB 150, discussed the                                                             
various adjustments and  actions that states are  making to their                                                               
election   processes  because   of  the   coronavirus  (COVID-19)                                                               
BARBARA JONES, Municipal Clerk and Election Administrator                                                                       
Municipality of Anchorage                                                                                                       
Anchorage, Alaska                                                                                                               
POSITION STATEMENT:   During the hearing on HB  150, outlined the                                                             
municipality's  vote-by-mail  process  that  was  implemented  in                                                               
ACTION NARRATIVE                                                                                                              
10:22:31 AM                                                                                                                   
CO-CHAIR JONATHAN  KREISS-TOMKINS called the House  State Affairs                                                             
Standing   Committee    meeting   to   order   at    10:22   a.m.                                                               
Representatives   Story   (via  teleconference),   Hopkins   (via                                                               
teleconference), Fields (via  teleconference), and Kreiss-Tomkins                                                               
were present at the call to order.                                                                                              
^PRESENTATION(S): Vote by Mail                                                                                                  
                 PRESENTATION(S): Vote by Mail                                                                              
10:23:31 AM                                                                                                                   
CO-CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS  announced  that   the  first  order  of                                                               
business would be a presentation, entitled "Vote by Mail."                                                                      
CO-CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS  explained that vote  by mail is  of keen                                                               
interest nationally  due to the  COVID-19 virus.   The governor's                                                               
[3/11/20]  declaration  of  a public  health  disaster  emergency                                                               
provided  the director  of  the Division  of  Elections with  the                                                               
authority to  conduct Alaska's  primary and/or  general elections                                                               
by  mail.   It was  recently decided  to conduct  the primary  by                                                               
mail.     Today's  witnesses   will  discuss   what  vote-by-mail                                                               
elections  might look  like  and the  committee  will consider  a                                                               
[proposed] committee substitute (CS) for HB 150.                                                                                
10:25:21 AM                                                                                                                   
AMBER MCREYNOLDS,  CEO, National  Vote at Home  Institute (NVHI),                                                               
noted  that  states  across  the  U.S.  are  scrambling  to  make                                                               
adjustments  to ensure  that voters  have options.   She  related                                                               
that  National Vote  at Home  Institute (NVHI)  is a  non-profit,                                                               
non-partisan organization, that she  was formerly the director of                                                               
elections for the  city and county of Denver,  Colorado, and that                                                               
she  served as  an  election  official for  14  years.   She  was                                                               
involved  in implementing  improvements,  reforms, and  enhancing                                                               
security for vote-by-mail  and vote-at-home programs.   In a non-                                                               
partisan  capacity, she  further  noted,  she provided  strategic                                                               
advice  and  suggestions  on  how   to  run  and  implement  best                                                               
practices  in Alaska's  recent state  party-run primary  election                                                               
for the Democratic side of the isle.                                                                                            
MS.  MCREYNOLDS  explained that  NVHI  helps  states with  policy                                                               
design and  making sure that  policies around voting by  mail are                                                               
adopted with  best practices  in mind, as  well as  ensuring that                                                               
security and  accessibility are  balanced.   Recently NVHI  did a                                                               
50-state  analysis  in  which it  analyzed  30  different  policy                                                               
components within each  state.  The analysis  included over 2,000                                                               
different metrics and came up with suggestions by state.                                                                        
MS. MCREYNOLDS advised that NVHI's  first and foremost suggestion                                                               
for  Alaska is  to  modify Alaska's  current  notary and  witness                                                               
signature  requirement to  be  a  signature verification  system.                                                               
This is  a recommended best  practice, especially in  states that                                                               
predominately vote by mail.   Such states all utilize a signature                                                               
verification  system   that  includes  a   bipartisan  comparison                                                               
MS. MCREYNOLDS added that the  signature verification system also                                                               
includes a process  that notifies a voter when there  is an issue                                                               
[cure process].  This is  an important security measure that goes                                                               
along with good and robust voting-at-home systems.                                                                              
MS. MCREYNOLDS  said the second  recommendation for Alaska  is to                                                               
implement ballot-tracking  software.  This would  enable tracking                                                               
of a  voter's ballot  from the  moment it is  printed to  when it                                                               
goes out for delivery to  providing a confirmation [to the voter]                                                               
of  when the  ballot is  received  and processed  by an  election                                                               
official.   That is  an important  accountability tool  that also                                                               
enhances  security.   Tracking  has been  rolled  out in  various                                                               
states, the  latest being California.   Several different vendors                                                               
provide and support this type of technology.                                                                                    
MS. MCREYNOLDS  said the  third recommendation  for Alaska  is to                                                               
provide an  online way for  voters to request an  absentee ballot                                                               
if the  state isn't mailing a  ballot to everyone.   This is more                                                               
efficient  for  the voters  and  also  provides a  more  seamless                                                               
administrative process for election officials.                                                                                  
MS. MCREYNOLDS  said another  recommendation is  pre-paid postage                                                               
for  envelopes.   This  best  practice  eliminates any  questions                                                               
voters  might have  and  enhances security,  so  voters have  the                                                               
option to return the ballot by mail or to drop it off.                                                                          
MS.  MCREYNOLDS  said  that, in  addition  to  offering  pre-paid                                                               
postage, NVHI recommends providing  24-hour/7-day a week ("24/7")                                                               
drop  boxes  in  city  or state  structures  such  as  libraries,                                                               
recreation  centers, or  city halls.   This  is a  best practices                                                               
option  because many  voters like  to drop  off their  ballots in                                                               
person and this preserves their ability to do so.                                                                               
MS.  MCREYNOLDS further  advised that  a good  replacement ballot                                                               
process is needed so that if  a voter moves and doesn't receive a                                                               
ballot there is a way to resolve that.                                                                                          
MS. MCREYNOLDS  offered NVHI's belief  that the gold  standard is                                                               
to end the  entire election process with risk  limiting audits by                                                               
security experts.  An audit was  conducted at the end of Alaska's                                                               
recent primary; it went very well  and is a testament to adopting                                                               
this type of best practice.                                                                                                     
10:32:32 AM                                                                                                                   
MS.   MCREYNOLDS,  in   response   to  Co-Chair   Kreiss-Tomkins,                                                               
summarized NVHI's  suggestions:  1) signature  verification; 2) a                                                               
cure  process; 3)  ballot tracking  solutions; 4)  online request                                                               
process; 5) pre-paid postage for  return envelopes; 6) increasing                                                               
options  for ballot  returns,  which would  mean  drop boxes;  7)                                                               
risk-limiting audits; and 8) replacement ballots.                                                                               
CO-CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS noted  that  all  these suggestions  are                                                               
included in the proposed CS being considered today.                                                                             
10:33:56 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  STORY  said she  has  heard  concern about  voter                                                               
fraud.    She  requested   further  details  regarding  signature                                                               
verification and tracking.                                                                                                      
MS. MCREYNOLDS replied that for  signature verification the voter                                                               
would sign  the affidavit on  the envelope.  That  envelope comes                                                               
back to the  election official and the signature  on the envelope                                                               
is compared  to the signature  on file  that was provided  when a                                                               
voter  obtained a  driver's license  or state  identification, or                                                               
registered to vote, or voted in  person.  The signature record on                                                               
any document that has been  scanned into [the state's] system can                                                               
be compared  for a match  to the  signature on the  envelope with                                                               
the ballot.  This comparison can  be done with equipment that has                                                               
signature software verification built  in.  The software compares                                                               
the reference  signature to the  others and makes a  match within                                                               
certain criteria.   Another  way to determine  a match  is manual                                                               
comparison,  which  is  done  by  bipartisan  teams  of  election                                                               
judges.    She  said  she likes  the  software  scanning  process                                                               
because it  is faster  and more  efficient.   Then, if  there are                                                               
signatures that  the equipment cannot match,  the election judges                                                               
can do a manual comparison and make a determination.                                                                            
MS. MCREYNOLDS advised  that when a signature  doesn't match, the                                                               
best practice is  to have bipartisan agreement that  it should be                                                               
rejected.   In Colorado, for  instance, a rejection  cannot occur                                                               
unless a  Republican and a  Democrat both say that  the signature                                                               
doesn't match.  The rejection triggers  a cure letter and in that                                                               
cure letter  the voter  is immediately  notified by  either text,                                                               
email, or  post letter  that the  signature did  not match.   The                                                               
voter must respond and cure  that, meaning the voter must confirm                                                               
that they did  in fact return the ballot and  must provide a copy                                                               
of  their identification  with  that cure  letter  back into  the                                                               
office.  The voter can email  this cure letter, or use a text-to-                                                               
cure  platform, or  use a  return envelope  that is  provided for                                                               
return  of  the affidavit  to  the  office.   Normally  the  best                                                               
practice  is  to allow  8-10  days  post-election for  that  cure                                                               
process to happen.                                                                                                              
10:37:30 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  STORY  requested  further explanation  about  the                                                               
tracking software.                                                                                                              
MS.  MCREYNOLDS answered  that the  ballot  tracking software  is                                                               
designed to  provide the voter  an accountability of  where their                                                               
ballot is.   It is also a great tool  for election administrators                                                               
because on  the back end they  can also track the  ballot through                                                               
the  postal  process.   The  vendor  that  prints and  mails  the                                                               
ballots  applies  an "intelligent  mail  bar  code" on  both  the                                                               
outgoing  and  return  envelopes.   Upon  drop-off  at  the  post                                                               
facility, the  postal service scans  the bar code, and  the voter                                                               
receives a message that the  U.S. Postal Service has received the                                                               
ballot that  will be coming to  them.  On the  back end, election                                                               
officials  can verify  that all  the  ballots given  to the  post                                                               
office were in fact scanned and  are out for delivery.  Depending                                                               
on  the postal  process for  where the  ballots are  going, there                                                               
might  be an  additional scan  that the  ballot is  out with  the                                                               
carrier for delivery  on a certain day.  When  the voter puts the                                                               
ballot in the  return envelope, this process occurs  again on the                                                               
back end    when the  post office  receives the envelope  and the                                                               
barcode is scanned, a message  is triggered telling the voter the                                                               
post office  has processed the ballot  and it is on  its way back                                                               
to election officials.   The voter gets two final  messages - one                                                               
when  the election  official has  received  it and  one when  the                                                               
ballot  has  been  accepted,  meaning   the  signature  has  been                                                               
verified.    If something  goes  awry  with the  signature,  that                                                               
system will  also immediately  notify the  voter through  text or                                                               
email  that there  is an  issue, and  they must  click a  link to                                                               
resolve the issues  with the affidavit.  The  tracking system can                                                               
also provide  other notices.  For  example, if a voter  has moved                                                               
and  not  updated  their  address,  the  ballot  will  come  back                                                               
undeliverable and  the voter  will get a  message that  they must                                                               
update their address.                                                                                                           
MS.  MCREYNOLDS added  that the  ballot tracking  system provides                                                               
voters with  direct accountability  and gives  election officials                                                               
the ability  on the  back end  to track everything.   If  a voter                                                               
calls with  an issue  the election  official can  immediately see                                                               
where  that issue  came.   Without this  ballot tracking  system,                                                               
election  officials and  voters alike  don't have  any visibility                                                               
into the  process   all  that is known is  that it was  mailed at                                                               
the  post office  and nothing  is known  beyond that.   A  ballot                                                               
tracking system adds accountability, which enhances security.                                                                   
10:41:22 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  HOPKINS, in  regard to  Colorado, inquired  about                                                               
the percentage of signatures that were  not accepted.  He said he                                                               
is asking  about this to  determine whether  Alaska's exceedingly                                                               
slow mail service could impact [the signature cure process].                                                                    
MS.  MCREYNOLDS  responded that  while  she  was in  Denver  [the                                                               
rejection  rate] was  an average  of  about 0.5  percent, a  very                                                               
small  number.    She  stressed   the  importance  of  developing                                                               
statewide  standards  and  training  to  provide  consistency  in                                                               
applying  the  standards.   Each  county  in  a state  should  go                                                               
through training  on the  standards so  that all  election judges                                                               
get the same  training in policies and procedures.   In regard to                                                               
the 0.5  percent, she said  the cure rate  varies.  How  many get                                                               
cured and how  many people respond to [the cure  letter] tends to                                                               
vary by the race and how close  that race might be.  For example,                                                               
if it's a "blowout" in a  particular election, not as many people                                                               
may cure.   But  usually, because  the cure  process is  easy and                                                               
there are lots of  ways to cure, it can be  that about 50 percent                                                               
of those get cured.  She  explained that a 100 percent cure isn't                                                               
likely  and  isn't necessarily  wanted  since  it is  a  security                                                               
measure.  Some of  those that don't get cured are  by design   it                                                               
means  the  system  caught  something   that  shouldn't  be,  for                                                               
example,  if a  new  person moves  into a  house  and votes  that                                                               
ballot.    Such  a  situation  needs  to  be  caught,  so  it  is                                                               
appropriate that  there isn't  a cure.   Any signatures  that are                                                               
not cured are reviewed by  law enforcement or a district attorney                                                               
post-election  to  ensure there  isn't  any  criminal issue.    A                                                               
criminal  issue is  really rare,  but there  have been  some, and                                                               
this is  something that  safeguards the  system and  ensures that                                                               
any bad actors are held accountable.                                                                                            
10:44:22 AM                                                                                                                   
CO-CHAIR FIELDS,  in regard to  Alaska's primary  election, asked                                                               
whether  there  are  any technical  or  procedural  reasons  that                                                               
Alaska's Division of Elections couldn't  be more pro-active about                                                               
getting  ballots out  to people  so that  they can  vote at  home                                                               
while still maintaining the capacity to vote in person.                                                                         
MS. MCREYNOLDS replied that when  the laws in Colorado were being                                                               
written,  there were  several reasons  for  restructuring how  to                                                               
deliver elections.  Number one  was that voters were increasingly                                                               
asking  for  vote-by-mail ballots.    Given  this trend,  it  was                                                               
decided to  deliver this in  a more efficient  way.  This  can be                                                               
done in  a couple different ways.   The Colorado style  of reform                                                               
entailed  mailing   a  ballot  to   every  elector   while  still                                                               
preserving in-person voting options  at voting centers, meaning a                                                               
voter  can go  to any  voting center  location rather  than being                                                               
restricted to  only one polling place.   She said she  likes this                                                               
model because  it cuts  down on  voters showing  up at  the wrong                                                               
polling  location  if they  have  moved.    Also, in  a  pandemic                                                               
situation  where  polling  place   adjustments  and  changes  are                                                               
sometimes  happening really  late,  providing vote  centers is  a                                                               
better way to do it because  each center is equipped to serve any                                                               
voter, making  the process more  resilient for  those last-minute                                                               
changes to  occur.  Ms. McReynolds  advised that for a  state the                                                               
size of  Alaska she would go  about sending a ballot  to everyone                                                               
in the state by contracting  with a third-party vendor to provide                                                               
that  service, similar  to  what Rhode  Island  and Maryland  are                                                               
currently doing.   All the envelopes  can be the same  design for                                                               
the entire state.   An economy of scale is  realized and makes it                                                               
more efficient for the localities  because it removes some of the                                                               
manual burden for the local jurisdictions.                                                                                      
MS.  MCREYNOLDS   further  noted  that   if  a  state   won't  be                                                               
automatically sending  a ballot to  each voter, it would  be wise                                                               
to educate the public in a  broad way.  For example, applications                                                               
could  be  sent to  each  elector  so  they have  an  application                                                               
proactively,  or a  communication could  be sent  to electors  so                                                               
they know  they can sign  up for vote  by mail.   These processes                                                               
are currently happening in Michigan, Georgia, and Kentucky.                                                                     
10:47:48 AM                                                                                                                   
CO-CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS, in  regard  to signature  verification,                                                               
inquired  whether  there are  issues  with  the data  quality  or                                                               
format of signatures  on file with the state  for comparison with                                                               
signatures on vote-by-mail ballots.                                                                                             
MS. MCREYNOLDS  answered that while  she doesn't know  how Alaska                                                               
handles this,  most states  scan nearly  all documents  that come                                                               
into  their   system,  whether   those  are   voter  registration                                                               
applications, absentee  ballot applications,  in-person signature                                                               
cards,  or driver's  license signatures.   All  those things  are                                                               
housed and  scanned into the  voter registration system  and kept                                                               
as a  part of  a voter  file.  States  that don't  have a  lot of                                                               
signatures on file enter into  a memorandum of understanding with                                                               
the department  that runs  motor vehicle  offices to  consume the                                                               
image  files from  motor vehicle  offices and  add them  into the                                                               
voter  registration  database.    It usually  isn't  a  difficult                                                               
technical process to do because  it is uploading imagery into the                                                               
system.    Alaska,  she  presumed,  should be  able  to  do  this                                                               
relatively easily because the state  is also currently doing that                                                               
for other types of transactions.                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS  noted  that the  lieutenant  governor's                                                               
office  and the  Division of  Elections declined  the committee's                                                               
invitation to participate  in today's hearing.   He expressed his                                                               
hope that  the committee will  be able to get  a lay of  the land                                                               
about the state's signature data.   He thanked Ms. McReynolds for                                                               
her testimony.                                                                                                                  
                     HB 150-VOTING BY MAIL                                                                                  
10:50:55 AM                                                                                                                   
CO-CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS   announced  that  the  next   order  of                                                               
business would  be HOUSE  BILL NO. 150,  "An Act  requiring state                                                               
elections and local  elections that the state  is responsible for                                                               
conducting to  be conducted by  mail; requiring  certain vote-by-                                                               
mail ballots  and election  materials to  be provided  in certain                                                               
written  languages other  than  English;  establishing an  online                                                               
ballot   tracking    and   registration    verification   system;                                                               
establishing voting  centers and  ballot drop  boxes; eliminating                                                               
the  use  of polling  places,  absentee  ballots, and  questioned                                                               
ballots  in certain  elections;  and providing  for an  effective                                                               
CO-CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS asked  for a motion to  adopt a committee                                                               
10:51:13 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  HOPKINS moved  to  adopt  the proposed  committee                                                               
substitute  (CS)  for  HB   150,  Version  31-LS0311\M,  Bullard,                                                               
1/10/20,  as the  working document.   There  being no  objection,                                                               
Version M was before the committee.                                                                                             
10:51:30 AM                                                                                                                   
CO-CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS  explained  that Version  M  is  modeled                                                               
after  the Colorado  system, which  includes  all the  provisions                                                               
discussed by  Ms. McReynolds.  He  noted that Version M  has some                                                               
adaptations for  Alaska and  the intent is  to parse  through the                                                               
language to refine and improve  the legislation's substance so as                                                               
to create  an optimal policy  document that the  legislature will                                                               
be positioned to act on in the future.                                                                                          
CO-CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS announced that HB 150 was held over.                                                                    
^PRESENTATION(S): Vote by Mail                                                                                                  
                 PRESENTATION(S): Vote by Mail                                                                              
10:52:37 AM                                                                                                                   
CO-CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS  announced  that   the  final  order  of                                                               
business would  be a return  to the presentation,  entitled "Vote                                                               
by Mail."                                                                                                                       
CO-CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS invited the  next witness, Ms. Underhill,                                                               
to  discuss  how states  and  legislatures  across the  U.S.  are                                                               
navigating  elections  during   this  [coronavirus  ("COVID-19")]                                                               
pandemic  and  the measures  the  states  are taking  to  protect                                                               
public health  while still  ensuring the  seamless administration                                                               
of elections.                                                                                                                   
10:53:26 AM                                                                                                                   
WENDY  UNDERHILL,   Director  of  Elections   and  Redistricting,                                                               
National  Conference of  State  Legislatures  (NCSL), noted  that                                                               
NCSL  is the  nation's  bipartisan organization  that serves  the                                                               
needs of  legislators and legislative  staff throughout  the U.S.                                                               
and its  territories.  She related  that as a Colorado  voter she                                                               
has  personal  experience  with   the  voting  described  by  Ms.                                                               
McReynolds.  For  example, at age 16  her daughter pre-registered                                                               
to  vote,  using  a  signature with  nice,  rounded  letters  and                                                               
distinct individual letters.   However, by the  time her daughter                                                               
went to vote  for the first time  at age 18, she  had changed her                                                               
signature to just a slash.   This was caught and her daughter was                                                               
notified of  the signature problem  and given the  opportunity to                                                               
fix  it.   Ms. Underhill  said she  was pleased  to see  that the                                                               
system did  work.   She further  related that  she signed  up for                                                               
ballot  tracking  and subsequently  received  texts  on her  cell                                                               
phone throughout the steps of the tracking process.                                                                             
MS. UNDERHILL explained that NCSL's  work is informational, which                                                               
means it doesn't offer advice  on policy matters that come before                                                               
state  legislatures,  but  NCSL   does  sometimes  lobby  at  the                                                               
national level in  Washington, DC.  She said NCSL  provides a 50-                                                               
state  perspective on  key topics  and  the one  topic right  now                                                               
seems to be how to conduct  elections in a safe manner for voters                                                               
and poll  workers given the  coronavirus.  All states  are making                                                               
adjustments to their election process  because of the coronavirus                                                               
and in large  part that is because voters  are making adjustments                                                               
in how they  choose to vote.  As long  as the coronavirus appears                                                               
to  be a  risk, voters  will be  deciding for  themselves whether                                                               
they want to  use absentee voting or vote-by-mail  to avoid going                                                               
to a polling place.  As  the voters have shifted, the states have                                                               
shifted.   States  are  faced with  the need  to  scale up  their                                                               
existing processes or to adopt new  processes in record time.  So                                                               
far, most of those shifts  have come through the executive branch                                                               
and  yet  legislatures are  where  election  policy is  generally                                                               
created.   Legislatures are now  starting to take the  lead again                                                               
and Alaska's legislature is at the front end of that wave.                                                                      
MS.  UNDERHILL reviewed  four categories  of actions  that states                                                               
have taken so far; the  categories aren't mutually exclusive, and                                                               
some  states are  doing more  than  one of  them.   In the  first                                                               
category, she  said, 18  states have  postponed their  primary or                                                               
other kind of  election, with most of these  being elections that                                                               
were scheduled for  April or May and that will  now take place in                                                               
June  or  July.    Of   these  postponements  the  majority  were                                                               
presidential  or state  primaries,  but a  few  states have  also                                                               
delayed state primaries  or municipal elections.   Alaska was not                                                               
part  of that  postponement trend  because its  state primary  is                                                               
late  in the  season on  August 18;  only six  states hold  their                                                               
state primary later than does Alaska.                                                                                           
MS.  UNDERHILL said  the  second  category is  that  a number  of                                                               
states are  making it easier  to request absentee  ballots, which                                                               
in essence  is a way to  encourage mail voting without  having to                                                               
make a sweeping  policy change or enact new laws.   This category                                                               
can take  several forms.   For  instance, of  the 16  states that                                                               
require voters  to provide an  excuse to get an  absentee ballot,                                                               
about half have  declared that fear of COVID-19  is an acceptable                                                               
reason  under their  laws.   Eleven states  have taken  the novel                                                               
step of  mailing absentee ballot  applications to  all registered                                                               
voters  for primary  elections.   With  this decision  to send  a                                                               
ballot  application, it  remains  the  voter's responsibility  to                                                               
request the ballot  according to whatever the  existing state law                                                               
is.   Mailing out an absentee  ballot application can be  seen as                                                               
the middle ground  between running elections as  usual and moving                                                               
to mostly  mail elections.   Sending  applications to  all voters                                                               
does  require  resources,  but  there is  reason  to  think  that                                                               
coronavirus  will  make elections  more  expensive  this year  no                                                               
matter what decisions  are made.  The  application mailing itself                                                               
may serve  to both  give election  officials new  information for                                                               
list maintenance  purposes and to  ensure that only  those people                                                               
who want a  mail ballot will have one sent  to them when election                                                               
time arrives.                                                                                                                   
MS.  UNDERHILL  added that  creating  an  online portal  for  the                                                               
application process is  another way to make it  easier for voters                                                               
to  get an  absentee ballot.   With  a ballot  request portal,  a                                                               
voter can request  a mail ballot without exchanging  a paper form                                                               
with a local  election official.  After the portal  is set up, it                                                               
is  expected to  reduce  the cost  of  managing absentee  ballots                                                               
because  no mailing  is required  and processing  times for  each                                                               
request  will  be  much  reduced  compared  with  managing  paper                                                               
applications.   In addition, human  error will be reduced.   Four                                                               
states have either  created online portals or now plan  to do so,                                                               
bringing the  total to 14  states that are providing  this avenue                                                               
and  she  expects to  see  more  of  that  moving forward.    Ms.                                                               
Underhill  advised that  NCSL  could  electronically provide  the                                                               
committee  with its  report titled  "Voting  Outside the  Polling                                                               
Place,"  which  outlines  many  of  the  policy  choices  she  is                                                               
presenting today.                                                                                                               
MS. UNDERHILL  said the  third category  is mail-in  ballots, not                                                               
just ballot applications to all  voters.  Five states already had                                                               
this as  their standard operating procedure  before COVID-19 hit.                                                               
She  noted that  she used  to refer  to these  as the  "all-mail"                                                               
election states  but now  she is  calling them  the "mostly-mail"                                                               
election  states  because  even  when ballots  are  sent  to  all                                                               
registered voters,  states still  maintain some kind  of Election                                                               
Day  operation,  such  as  vote centers,  to  assist  voters  who                                                               
haven't received their ballot or  who have another kind of issue,                                                               
or  for  same-day registration,  and  for  anyone who  has  moved                                                               
within the  jurisdiction and needs to  update their registration.                                                               
In addition  to the  five states,  California's governor  has, by                                                               
executive order,  directed that November's election  be conducted                                                               
via mailing ballots  to all voters.  Montana's  governor issued a                                                               
directive that gave all counties  the authority to decide if they                                                               
would like to conduct  this year's June 2   state primary by mail                                                               
and all  counties elected to  do so.   Maryland, Nevada,  and New                                                               
Jersey  have moved  to a  mostly-mail primary.   Nebraska,  North                                                               
Dakota,  and California  prior to  this  year's directive,  allow                                                               
counties  to  decide  on  their  own  whether  to  conduct  their                                                               
elections  by mail.   Ten  of Nebraska's  counties used  mail for                                                               
their primaries  and North Dakota's  governor signed  a directive                                                               
that  strongly encouraged  counties  to do  so  for the  primary.                                                               
When looking at the aforementioned  states on a map, a geographic                                                               
trend of  mostly western states  can be seen, with  the exception                                                               
of Maryland and New Jersey.   For the most part, voters have been                                                               
pleased to  have the option  to vote at  home, but of  course not                                                               
all people  feel the  same and  there may  be some  categories of                                                               
voters  who are  disadvantaged  by  mail voting.    One of  these                                                               
groups is Native Americans, but  she doesn't whether that extends                                                               
to Alaska Natives.  Other groups  who may not be easily served by                                                               
mail voting  are those who  move often, who are  homeless, anyone                                                               
with  low   literacy,  and  some,   but  not  all,   people  with                                                               
MS. UNDERHILL outlined  why more states aren't likely  to move to                                                               
mostly-mail elections  this year.   She said  one reason  is that                                                               
making a  shift can  be hard  to do depending  on what  a state's                                                               
voting process looks  like at this moment.  For  example, if many                                                               
people are  already voting by  mail, then processes  are probably                                                               
already in place  that can be scaled  up.  But if  voting by mail                                                               
is still  a very  small portion  of all  voting, then  scaling up                                                               
presents some challenges.  States  that have moved to mostly-mail                                                               
elections got  there over  a course of  years with  policies that                                                               
have been encouraging  mail voting, such as  creating a permanent                                                               
absentee voting list.  She  offered her understanding that Alaska                                                               
has gotten to the  point that a voter only has to  ask once to be                                                               
able to receive mail ballots for all elections in that year.                                                                    
MS.  UNDERHILL highlighted  the  four topics  that states  should                                                               
address as they are preparing to go  to more mail.  First is that                                                               
the signature  on the outside  of the return envelope  is checked                                                               
against signatures  on file.  Second  is the ability to  begin to                                                               
process, but not count, these  ballots before Election Day.  This                                                               
is because  a huge pile of  ballots could arrive on  Election Day                                                               
and  everyone would  be sorting,  opening, and  scanning, and  so                                                               
results could be delayed.  Third is  to have a way for a voter to                                                               
be contacted.   Fourth is that mail ballots can  be reported at a                                                               
precinct  level and  not  only reported  at  an aggregate  level.                                                               
This is appreciated by candidates  and campaign managers as a way                                                               
to know  more precisely  where their voters  can be  found, which                                                               
helps with their campaigning.                                                                                                   
MS. UNDERHILL  said the  fourth category is  that all  states are                                                               
striving to make  polling places safer.   Measures include moving                                                               
from touched screen  machines, to using paper  ballots, to giving                                                               
every  voter their  own  pen to  vote with,  to  working out  the                                                               
details  of drive-through  voting.   Other  measures include  the                                                               
marking  of six-foot  intervals for  voters waiting  in line  and                                                               
providing poll workers with masks and gloves.                                                                                   
MS.  UNDERHILL  commented  that the  maintenance  of  high  voter                                                               
confidence  in election  processes is  very important.   Anything                                                               
states can do  to assure voters that their votes  are going to be                                                               
counted correctly regardless of how  the ballots are delivered to                                                               
the  voter  or  delivered  back   to  the  election  official  is                                                               
important.    This  means  that   voter  education  may  be  more                                                               
important than it ever has been before.                                                                                         
11:06:16 AM                                                                                                                   
CO-CHAIR  FIELDS   requested  Ms.  Underhill  to   speak  to  the                                                               
transition time for the Montana  counties that went to a vote-at-                                                               
home system.   He further  inquired how the  respective divisions                                                               
of  elections implemented  that and  what the  timeline was.   He                                                               
said he  is thinking  about Alaska's  primary election  this year                                                               
and the  steps that Alaska's  Division of Elections will  need to                                                               
take to make it easier for people to vote at home.                                                                              
MS. UNDERHILL  responded that election  officials in  Montana are                                                               
the county  clerks and  they have  favored moving  to mostly-mail                                                               
elections for  some time.   Over the  course of years,  they have                                                               
been encouraging  people to  choose to vote  by absentee  or mail                                                               
ballots,  so the  percentage of  voters  doing so  in Montana  is                                                               
already pretty high and the processes  are in place.  She offered                                                               
to check with  the state election director in  Montana should Co-                                                               
Chair Fields like further details.                                                                                              
11:07:43 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  STORY   asked  whether  Ms.  Underhill   has  any                                                               
suggestions for mechanisms  that could be used  to help alleviate                                                               
any problems with voting by mail for disadvantaged groups.                                                                      
MS.  UNDERHILL  replied  that having  some  amount  of  in-person                                                               
voting is  probably the best way  to work with that  situation so                                                               
there is a place for people to go  to vote on Election Day.  This                                                               
way,  any problems  can  be handled  in-person  on Election  Day.                                                               
Because  each  of  the  disadvantaged  groups  is  unique,  voter                                                               
education is  important here, as  is working with people  who are                                                               
advocates or leaders for these groups.                                                                                          
11:09:15 AM                                                                                                                   
CO-CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS  asked  why  there  are  concerns  about                                                               
access to voting-by-mail/voting-at-home in "Indian Country."                                                                    
MS. UNDERHILL answered that oftentimes  addresses are not handled                                                               
the same on a reservation as  they are elsewhere, and most people                                                               
receive  their mail  at post  office boxes  instead of  a box  at                                                               
their  house.   The problem  is that  there aren't  enough postal                                                               
boxes, so  several families may be  sharing one postal box  and a                                                               
person's  ballot may  not  be  there for  them.    On the  Navajo                                                               
reservation in  Arizona, people live  many miles away  from their                                                               
post box and may only get into town  once or twice a month to get                                                               
their mail.   During parts of the year the  roads are impassable,                                                               
making it tricky  sometimes to get one's ballot.   There are ways                                                               
to work on the addressing, she  advised.  North Dakota has worked                                                               
to  some  extent on  having  a  way  to identify  something  that                                                               
doesn't  have  a street  and  a  number,  such  as looking  at  a                                                               
geographic  map and  pointing  to where  the house  is.   On  the                                                               
Navajo  reservation,  she  continued,  voting has  often  been  a                                                               
community  day  that  takes place  at  the  tribal  headquarters,                                                               
perhaps with a party  that goes along with it, and  so there is a                                                               
cultural piece  there as  well.   Also coming  into play  is that                                                               
depending on  the Native American  group, people could  be fluent                                                               
in their own language but have literacy problems in English.                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS   noted  that  the   aforementioned  has                                                               
parallels to the Alaska Native community.                                                                                       
CO-CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS  invited the next witness,  Ms. Jones, to                                                               
share the Municipality of Anchorage's  experience with adopting a                                                               
vote-at-home   policy  and   to  discuss   whether  any   of  the                                                               
infrastructure developed  by Anchorage  could serve the  State of                                                               
Alaska's statewide needs, should that be asked for.                                                                             
11:12:51 AM                                                                                                                   
BARBARA  JONES,  Municipal   Clerk  and  Election  Administrator,                                                               
Municipality of Anchorage, explained  that the Anchorage Assembly                                                               
established vote-by-mail  in Anchorage in  2016 as a  strategy to                                                               
increase voter  turnout and empower  Anchorage residents.   Three                                                               
things occurred during the time  period between 2016 and the 2018                                                               
implementation of vote-by-mail:   1) a Request  for Proposals; 2)                                                               
the  leasing of  an  updated, functional,  secure  space; and  3)                                                               
updating of  the municipal  code.  In  the Request  for Proposals                                                               
there were three key functions.   The first was a mail sorter and                                                               
signature verification system.  The  second was a ballot scanning                                                               
and  tabulation system.   The  third was  a printing  and mailing                                                               
vendor.  Getting the Request  for Proposals done, and making sure                                                               
it was  done right,  took up the  bulk of this  time period.   In                                                               
regard to which, if  any, of those could be used  by the State of                                                               
Alaska, it is interesting to note  that the state has exactly the                                                               
same  ballot   scanning  and  tabulation   system  as   does  the                                                               
Municipality of  Anchorage.   The state's  mail sorter  system is                                                               
different  than   the  municipality's  system.     The  signature                                                               
verification system  used by the municipality  ingests signatures                                                               
from the State  of Alaska voter registration base.   She said she                                                               
believes  the State  of Alaska  also has  that capacity,  but she                                                               
doesn't   know  the   exact  relationship.     Using   the  voter                                                               
information from  the State of Alaska  database, the municipality                                                               
assigns unique ballot package identification  to each voter, then                                                               
submits that  to the vendor  that prints, inserts, and  mails the                                                               
ballot  packages  from its  secure  facility  to each  registered                                                               
voter  in Anchorage.   In  regard to  this system,  she said  she                                                               
doesn't know what the state's capacity is for doing that.                                                                       
MS. JONES  said Anchorage's vote-by-mail  system is  very similar                                                               
to  what  was  discussed  by  the previous  two  speakers.    The                                                               
municipality provides the  information it gets from  the state to                                                               
the  printing and  mailing vendor  and  the vendor  then mails  a                                                               
ballot  package  to every  registered  voter.   The  municipality                                                               
accepts the return ballot envelopes  via mail, via 18 secure drop                                                               
boxes,  as  well as  via  its  vote centers.    In  the past  the                                                               
municipality had six vote centers,  but this year due to COVID-19                                                               
the  municipality  only  had  one.   The  municipality  runs  the                                                               
ballots  through its  mail sorter,  which checks  for duplicates,                                                               
the required identification, and  other issues with the envelope.                                                               
The municipality  verifies the signature on  the envelope against                                                               
the signatures in the State  of Alaska voter registration system.                                                               
After   signature  verification,   the  municipality   opens  the                                                               
envelopes and  separates the ballots  in the  confidential manner                                                               
that the  municipality has  done with  absentee-by-mail envelopes                                                               
for  40 years  and as  done by  the state  for absentee  ballots.                                                               
After  the   ballots  are  separated  from   the  envelopes,  the                                                               
municipality runs  them through the high-speed  scanners and then                                                               
on election night tabulates the  numbers and reports the results,                                                               
which is the same system that the state has.                                                                                    
11:17:54 AM                                                                                                                   
CO-CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS   asked  whether  the   Municipality  of                                                               
Anchorage has experienced any fraud  associated with its vote-by-                                                               
mail/vote-at-home system.                                                                                                       
MS. JONES responded that this  is a difficult question because as                                                               
discussed by  the prior speakers,  Anchorage has a  cure process.                                                               
If someone  has a signature that  doesn't match, they get  a cure                                                               
letter.   Municipal  code requires  that a  cure notification  be                                                               
sent  within  three  days  of   processing  the  envelope.    The                                                               
municipality's statistics are very  similar to the ones mentioned                                                               
by  Ms. McReynolds;  the  municipality's cure  rate  is about  50                                                               
percent.  Some  envelopes were not cured, but as  was said by Ms.                                                               
McReynolds,  maybe they  all shouldn't  be  cured.   In the  past                                                               
there  have been  a  couple  of envelopes  of  concern that  were                                                               
discussed with  the municipal attorney.   One  of those was  at a                                                               
vote center,  so it  was a live  situation and  not vote-by-mail.                                                               
It  was reported  to the  Anchorage Election  Commission and  the                                                               
commission asked that it be moved  forward.  The second one was a                                                               
vote-by-mail  situation where  it  appeared that  a senior  voted                                                               
both the senior  and junior mail ballot envelopes  that were sent                                                               
to the  same address.   Those are  the only two  situations she's                                                               
had, and  she reports those  to the  assembly every year.   There                                                               
were a couple  more this year, including one  that stated,  Voted                                                               
by Facebook live,"  and she presumes that it was  due to COVID-19                                                               
as  this hasn't  been  seen  before.   Since  it  was an  invalid                                                               
signature, it was  rejected for lack of signature,  but it wasn't                                                               
believed to be fraud.                                                                                                           
11:20:28 AM                                                                                                                   
CO-CHAIR FIELDS  asked what  the first things  would be  that Ms.                                                               
Jones would do, based on her  knowledge of the state's system, to                                                               
make  implementing  a  State of  Alaska  vote-at-home  system  as                                                               
successful as possible.                                                                                                         
MS. JONES answered that one thing  would be to send out absentee-                                                               
by-mail  applications to  every registered  voter.   That is  how                                                               
people get to  make a choice as  to whether they want  to vote at                                                               
home.  Second,  the Municipality of Anchorage sent  a postcard to                                                               
voters to  make sure the  municipality had their  correct mailing                                                               
address.    Voter addresses  sometimes  need  updating, but  when                                                               
people  go  to  polling  stations their  address  doesn't  really                                                               
matter.  So, sending a postcard  is step that could be considered                                                               
for  a  vote-at-home  system.     A  third  step  that  could  be                                                               
considered,  and which  may be  more of  a long-term  process, is                                                               
that a  voter in Alaska  can register  to get an  absentee ballot                                                               
this  year and  can  request  a ballot  for  either  or both  the                                                               
primary and general elections.   She suggested that there also be                                                               
an  option  to  permanently  request an  absentee  ballot.    For                                                               
example, some Alaska voters are  snowbirds that are gone from the                                                               
state every  year in November.   A permanent absentee  list could                                                               
be really helpful to voters.                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS noted  there was  legislation this  last                                                               
session that would have  established a permanent absentee-by-mail                                                               
setup, but it didn't make it through the process.                                                                               
11:24:12 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE STORY  noted the  lieutenant governor  decided not                                                               
to do the primary election  with vote-by-mail.  She requested Ms.                                                               
Jones to  elaborate on why  vote-by-mail might be  more difficult                                                               
with Alaska's closed and party-run primary system.                                                                              
MS.  JONES  apologized  for  being  unable  to  elaborate.    She                                                               
explained that  the Municipality of Anchorage  is non-partisan so                                                               
that it is  not an issue for her.   However, she continued, based                                                               
on research and  trips to the Lower 48 for  the municipality, she                                                               
knows that  other jurisdictions do conduct  primaries by vote-by-                                                               
mail.  She  recommended the committee contact  Thurston County in                                                               
the state of Washington to get further information.                                                                             
11:25:28 AM                                                                                                                   
CO-CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS  inquired about  the amount of  change in                                                               
voter turnout after the municipality's adoption of vote-at-home.                                                                
MS. JONES  responded that the  municipality's turnout was  in the                                                               
high teens to low  twenties and now it is in  the low thirties or                                                               
low  twenties, so  a 5  to  10 percent  increase.   She said  she                                                               
thinks a  bump is being  seen because vote-at-home is  easier for                                                               
voters.   Further, the municipality's voter  registration is much                                                               
larger  with 232,000  registered  voters in  Anchorage, which  is                                                               
pretty close to its adult population.   However, she noted, it is                                                               
thought that  this voter  registration number may  be a  bit high                                                               
because people  have moved and  not provided notice to  the state                                                               
that they aren't living in Alaska anymore.                                                                                      
CO-CHAIR   KREISS-TOMKINS  pointed   out  that   automatic  voter                                                               
registration and the  permanent fund dividend took  effect at the                                                               
same  time.   He  asked  how  many  ballots  were being  cast  in                                                               
municipal elections before and after vote-at-home.                                                                              
MS. JONES replied that the  number was around 50,000 before vote-                                                               
at-home.   In  2018 it  was  79,000, and  this year  it is  about                                                               
11:27:35 AM                                                                                                                   
CO-CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS   asked  whether   he  is   accurate  in                                                               
concluding  that  the  quality  of signatures  in  the  State  of                                                               
Alaska's   voter   registration   database  was   sufficient   to                                                               
administer the signature verification process.                                                                                  
MS. JONES  confirmed the conclusion  is accurate;  the signatures                                                               
are  excellent.   She explained  that when  the municipality  has                                                               
signatures for  which it  doesn't have  a reference  signature in                                                               
its downloaded  State of Alaska voter  registration database, the                                                               
municipality contacts the state  and has an excellent partnership                                                               
with the state.  For  example, in 2019 the municipality contacted                                                               
the state  for over 200  signatures that  it didn't have  on file                                                               
and the  State of  Alaska found  all but  one.   The municipality                                                               
assumes that the one signature  was someone who registered online                                                               
and never provided the data that was needed.                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS  opined that  voter-by-mail/vote-at-home                                                               
is often seen  through a possible partisan or  political image of                                                               
concern.   He said he  is putting on  record the April  15, 2020,                                                               
study  from the  Stanford Democracy  and Polarization  Lab within                                                               
the Institute  for Economic Policy  Research.  It is  titled "The                                                               
Neutral  Partisan Effects  of Vote  by Mail,  Evidence from  2011                                                               
Rollout."  The study compared  the political and partisan results                                                               
of  elections in  the different  counties  that had  administered                                                               
rollouts for  before and after  their vote-by-mail rollouts.   It                                                               
was found that  turnout increased but there was  not any partisan                                                               
advantage to one  party or another.  He urged  that the committee                                                               
and Alaskans keep this study in mind.                                                                                           
11:31:01 AM                                                                                                                   
There being no  further business before the  committee, the House                                                               
State Affairs  Standing Committee meeting was  adjourned at 11:31                                                               

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
CS HB 150 (H STA) ver M 5.19.20.pdf HSTA 5/19/2020 10:00:00 AM
HB 150
Sectional CS HB 150 (H STA) ver M 5.19.20.pdf HSTA 5/19/2020 10:00:00 AM
HB 150
HB 150 Supporting Document Letters of Opposition 5.26.20.pdf HSTA 5/19/2020 10:00:00 AM
HB 150
HB 150 Supporting Document Roberts Testimony 5.28.20.pdf HSTA 5/19/2020 10:00:00 AM
HB 150