Amidst national confusion, an orderly local vote

Volunteer Thea Thomas demonstrates use of the scanner used to tally Cordova’s votes. (Nov. 3, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Diana Rubio, the state of Alaska’s elections chairperson for Cordova, has worked hundreds of elections over the past 31 years. This year, things were different in the Cordova Center Education Room, where voting was carried out Tuesday, Nov. 3. The canvas-walled booths were scooted several feet apart, and a new route for foot traffic was mapped to prevent possible coronavirus transmission.

Voters fed their ballots into a box equipped with a scanner allowing ballots to be instantly counted. Ballots that were over-voted, or that had certain other errors, were automatically returned to the voter by the scanner. After the polls closed, electronic results were transmitted to Juneau via a special phone line, and the ballot papers sent by mail. It’s a far cry from the days when teams of volunteers stayed up past midnight, counting and re-counting votes by hand, Rubio said.

“I think Alaska has a great process,” Rubio said. “They dot every I and cross every T… There’s none of these hanging chads!”

Volunteer Diana Rubio disinfects pens used to fill out ballots. (Nov. 3, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

But Rubio didn’t cast her own vote with the scanner — instead, she used her vote to test-drive a newly arrived piece of equipment that helps disabled citizens cast their ballots. This device combines a touchscreen with adjustable-size type, a handheld controller with braille writing, and a “sip-and-puff”-style apparatus that allows a citizen to input responses by blowing into a tube.

Other small innovations include the use of felt-tipped pens to complete ballots. Felt-tipped pens make it easier to fully fill in bubbles on ballots, and are resistant to smearing.

A tablet with specialized controls helps disabled citizens vote. (Nov. 3, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Unfortunately for the city’s election workers, coronavirus concerns also meant the cancellation of the traditional lunchtime smorgasbord. But, Rubio said, election day was still an enjoyable opportunity to catch up with friends and acquaintances while helping them with their queries and handing out “I voted” stickers. Rubio is considering retiring as chairperson, a position that sometimes requires her to lug around heavy voting equipment. However, she hopes to return as a regular volunteer even after she’s vacated the chair.

“Seeing everybody that comes through is a blast,” Rubio said. “Right here I can see the whole town, people I’ve known for years and years. It’s really fun.”

Election-day logistics were handled with assistance from Mimi Briggs, event coordinator for the Cordova Center.