Assembly Questions Election Commission
Ballot shortages and voter confusion prompts work session, calls for special counsel
ANCHORAGE – A meeting between the Anchorage Assembly and Election Commission members today yielded few answers to many of the questions surrounding the April 3 municipal election.
In the wake of ballot shortages and claims of disenfranchisement citywide last Tuesday, Assembly Chairwoman Debbie Ossiander said the meeting would give the body a chance to question the commission about its work and move towards a solution.
“It’s just one step in the recovery process,” Ossiander said.
While work sessions are normally held at City Hall, Friday’s election session was moved the Assembly Chambers to accommodate expected crowds, and several dozen people arrived to watch. Immediately after the meeting was called to order, several people submitted a citizens’ petition asking for an independent investigation into the election. Assemblywoman Elvi Gray-Jackson said there were more than 300 signatures, but other members said it was a premature request.
“The first thing is for us to ask the questions,” said Assemblyman Dick Traini. “After that, if we still think we need to get a special counsel then we can.”
Approximately 200 people had contacted the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska over the past week claiming they were denied their right to vote, and many voters and poll workers had signed affidavits about their experiences. While the civil liberties group had called on the Assembly to appoint an independent investigator to review the election and its results, the request had been rejected by a 7-4 vote April 10.
Now, Traini said the local lawmakers had begun their own investigative process.
Election Commission members said they couldn’t answer questions about ballot shortages – their work only covered total counts and eligibility – but the commission had so far rejected roughly 500 ballots for invalid registration codes. They said the number included people who were registered to vote elsewhere in the state but traveled to Anchorage to cast a card.
While 143,000 ballots were printed, they said only 72,350 had been distributed to precincts, and 63,000 had been leftover at the end of the day. Besides ballot numbers, assembly members questioned the commission about voter registers, questioned ballots, precinct procedures and more. Traini said they’re just some of the unanswered questions he’s wrestling with.
“I’ve been on the assembly for years, and we’ve never had to have this happen before,” he said. “We’re all going into new territory.”
Regardless of the answers or when they came, Traini said it all came down to one central decision.
“It’s up to the assembly to either accept the election, or not and call for a new election, and that’s a big decision we have to make,” he said. “There are a lot of dance steps in between now and then.”