Why is Lt. Gov. Meyer Alaska’s vote-suppressor-in-chief?
By: Joshua A. Decker
2020 has been a hell of a year. Alaska’s COVID-19 cases have soared, with each day in the past month bringing hundreds of new cases. Alaskans are sick, kids can’t safely go to school, and our government hasn’t answered how it will fix our paralyzing fiscal crisis.
We’re in serious times with serious problems, and they demand serious efforts to find serious solutions. But it’s not just our public servants’ job to strive for solutions: we the people must too meet this historic moment by voting.
Voting is our most fundamental principle. As Alaskans, it’s our birthright: it’s how we translate our values into actions and how we elect policymakers to turn problems into solutions.
With our vote, we the people can do anything. We can guarantee that every Alaskan receives a quality education, first-class healthcare, and safe communities in which to live, work, and play. Without our vote, however, solutions will remain elusive and policymakers will be unaccountable.
Every public officer in Alaska swears to support and defend the United States and Alaska Constitutions. Each of them has promised to uphold our first freedoms “to the best of my ability.” Why then, is Lieutenant Governor Kevin Meyer suppressing Alaskans’ constitutional right to vote?
In August’s primary, voters in the six communities of Arctic Village, Port Lions, Kake, Takotna, Cold Bay, and Nunam Iqua found out—on election eve—that Lt. Gov. Meyer’s Division of Elections wasn’t going to open their polling places. And the 130 Alaskans in Mertarvik couldn’t vote because the Division of Elections “forgot” to mail them ballots because they “forgot” that people lived there.
It’s been 11 weeks since the primary and the general election is today. Yet, Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai wrote 3 weeks ago that she still hasn’t secured poll workers for Cold Bay, Takotna, Elim, Point Lay, and Nunam Iqua. Two weeks ago Meyer said that his Division of Elections doesn’t have anyone to work the polls in Sleetmute, Clark’s Point, Wainwright, and Deering.
Lt. Gov. Meyer knows how hard it is to safely vote in a global pandemic: that’s why in July, he mailed almost 100,000 absentee-ballot applications to every senior citizen. And when he was sued over this, his chief of staff, Josh Applebee, testified under oath that Lt. Gov. Meyer did this because he recognized “people 65 and older” and “with certain underlying medical conditions,” may wish to vote absentee to “avoid going to the polls, standing in close proximity, and using touch screens or handling ballots.”
Yet, when we at the ACLU of Alaska, in partnership with the Native American Rights Fund and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, asked him to let every Alaskan, including the one in four who live without another adult and the countless others with “underlying medical conditions,” to freely vote absentee without the barrier of finding a witness, he said no and callously “encourage[d] voters to think creatively about how to fulfill this requirement in a safe manner.”
So, we sued him, and his lawyer admitted in court that the absentee witness requirement had never been used in memory to detect voter fraud: she couldn’t justify why Alaskans needed to choose between our health and our vote. Notwithstanding this, Lt. Gov. Meyer immediately appealed our win to the Alaska Supreme Court, which denied his request to require witnesses to vote by mail.
His Division of Elections, when asked by Alyse Galvin to correct November’s ballot, responded that it was too late to reprint them. But when his Division of Elections makes its own last-minute mistakes, like listing the wrong Democratic candidate for House District 28, or omitting Independence Party candidate Timothy Huit from the official voter information pamphlet, or improperly listing Libertarian candidates, it’s no problem to reprint thousands upon thousands of ballots and pamphlets. And when our legislators ask how the Division of Elections can make so many mistakes that prevent Alaskans from voting, Director Fenumiai responds that it’s “demeaning and demoralizing” to suggest that the Division of Elections doesn’t “take the conduct of all elections very seriously.”
She’s wrong. It isn’t offensive to hold Lt. Gov. Meyer and his Division of Elections accountable: that’s our job as Alaskans. What’s offensive is how our government treats Alaskans’ right to vote—a right that we’ve bled, died, and killed for—as optional and too hard.
Freedom won’t protect itself: that’s why we at the ACLU of Alaska have a voter hotline, so every Alaskan can freely and fairly vote. If you have trouble voting or see problems this election, call us at 907-263-2010 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Voting ends today and our new legislators begin on January 19. We hope that you’ll join us in telling Alaska’s candidates and officials that we can’t wait for them to protect every Alaskans’ vote. As we’ve seen this year, when it comes to our promised government of the people and by the people, Alaskans deserve better than the incompetence and voter suppression of Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer’s Division of Elections.
Joshua A. Decker is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, which for 49 years has protected the constitutional rights of everyone in the Last Frontier.