Alaskans Volunteer to Ensure Democracy is Working

For the last several weeks, a coalition of Alaskan organizations successfully organized statewide Election Protection programs to support generating historic voter turnout in our communities. This investment by the Alaska Civic Engagement State (AKCES) Table made Alaska the 40th state in the country to affiliate with the Election Protection Coalition - a national, nonpartisan coalition working to advance and protect the right to vote.

Through AKCES, Alaskan voters received transportation, accessibility support, and other resources to ensure maximum participation in the 2020 General Election. Voters were provided with a national, nonpartisan Election Protection (EP) hotline providing access to voter info and assistance to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to vote and have that vote counted. Volunteers processed over 285 calls from Alaskans over two weeks leading up to November 3rd. Voters called about voter registration, polling locations, absentee eligibility, disability, or language accessibility.

AKCES volunteers were stationed at polling places statewide to support the Division of Elections (DoE) and help mitigate any issues in person. Throughout "Election Day," volunteers helped navigate voters into polling locations, provide information about election machine repairs, hand out PPE, snacks, and water to poll workers and voters alike, and answered questions about the voting process.

"Thanks to the hard work from our community and the work of local organizations alongside the DoE, we were able to ensure that folks were safe, supported, and informed at the polls. We were able to see our elders, our neighbors, and even first-time voters exercise their hard-earned right to vote here in the United States, which has been the goal all along."- Margaret Tarrant, Alaska Community Action on Toxics.

The volunteer hubs across the state were able to help with polling place visibility or signage in 35 locations. Poll observers confirmed eligibility for 10 voters and helped another dozen voters towards language resources. 10 volunteers directly addressed voting obstacles, spreading salt on the sidewalks, and reporting those engaged in electioneering or voter intimidation.

"In Fairbanks, we were looking at long lines and freezing temperatures. So our team rallied together and provided hand warmers and a space heater to keep voters socially distanced and warm. It felt so good to provide positive encouragement for these voters. They need to see that casting their ballots is a thing to celebrate. It's Democracy, it should be fun," said one of the workers in the Fairbanks-North Star Borough.

While most of the day was a lot of positive reinforcement statewide, there were some issues for voters regarding confusion about electioneering guidelines, voter intimidation near polling places, and a couple of instances of poll workers not having a clear understanding of their roles and boundaries.

"I was glad that we were able to respond quickly to voter concerns. A first-time voter had a terrible experience at a polling location. Because of our team and the quick cooperation of the DoE, we were able to remove a poll worker whose actions created an unsafe atmosphere for voters in the community. Had we not been working so closely with the DOE, who knows how many other voters may have been turned off of the voting process for good. Voters need to know that there are people out there to protect their rights, so they feel empowered to use them," explained one of our Anchorage workers

With over 75 volunteers in 145 precincts across the state, AKCES Table supported hundreds of Alaskans to vote safely. The increased visibility for quality nonpartisan information and the development of meaningful relationships with poll workers and the DoE has laid the foundation for a network to ensure election accessibility for years to come. As the community anticipates the count of absentee ballots cast in Alaska, the team at the AKCES Table remains committed to ensuring that every legally-cast vote is counted.

Alaska Civic Engagement State Table is a broad statewide coalition that supports the Alaskan electorate's growth to become the most engaged in the Nation. Our mission is strengthening Democracy, unifying people, and working in partnership with underrepresented yet impacted communities to increase statewide voter turnout. Increasing the number of Alaskans who vote and protecting voter rights, and removing barriers to civic engagement is at the core of our strategy to promote a strong and healthy democracy.

Originally Published in the Anchorage Press

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