Request from the National Federation of the Blind of Alaska regarding HB375
Representative Neal Foster
Co-Chair, House Finance Committee
Capitol Room 505
Juneau, AK 99801
To The Honorable Co-Chairman Foster and Members of the House Finance Committee,
We are writing to urge you to improve accessibility in Alaska elections by including Representative Shaw’s bill, House Bill 375, in election legislation your committee is considering.
We support efforts to make Alaska elections more accessible and secure. House Bill 66 includes several improvements to current Alaska law that will improve the voting process. But it is missing important changes that are needed to address the needs of voters who are blind and print disabled like us.
Voters with disabilities face tremendous obstacles to voting. Voting in person can be challenging both because of transportation issues getting to a polling place, and because the accessible voting equipment is often not set up properly and uses assistive technology that can be difficult for voters with disabilities to operate independently.
Voting an absentee ballot is also not accessible, and too many voters are forced to rely on assistance from others to mark, sign, and return their ballots by mail. Alaska currently provides an accessible online ballot marking system through which voters like us can receive and mark our ballot electronically. But it forces us to print and return a physical ballot. Many voters do not have printers at home and cannot independently handle a physical ballot, making this option not fully accessible. Other states have addressed this by expanding electronic ballot return options to voters with disabilities, including Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia. It is long past time for Alaska to join those other states in offering a fully accessible absentee voting system.
House Bill 375 would address these accessibility challenges by requiring the Division of Elections to establish a digital voting system that permits voters with special needs to receive, mark, verify, and return an absentee ballot from a digital device. The bill is modeled after similar legislation in West Virginia, where digital voting has been piloted since 2018, and includes important security guardrails to protect the integrity of the election, including a requirement that that ballots are encrypted from end-to-end and that all digital votes are printed onto paper ballots to serve as the official ballot of record for tabulation, audits, and recounts.
The bill also addresses an important update needed for Alaska’s military voters, who are currently forced to rely on unreliable or outdated return methods, such as fax machines, to cast a ballot from remote locations around the world. Fax return offers no security and forces our military voters to give up their right to a secret ballot.
The system replicates the traditional mail voting process on a digital device, enabling voters to access, mark, sign, verify and cast their ballots from a computer or mobile device. This added convenience has proven to increase participation among those eligible voters. A study of a similar pilot program in the state of West Virginia found as much as a 5% increase in participation among military and overseas voters when digital voting was offered.
Alaska can improve existing voting options and make elections in Alaska more resilient and secure. Digital voting will help make that possible, and we strongly urge you to include House Bill 375 in the larger election reform package you are considering.
Bonnie Lucas, President
William Craig, First Vice President
Katie Lester, Board Member
Pam Van Hoozer, Board Member
cc: Representative Laddie Shaw