Assembly to Examine Election Problems Before Making Decision on Validity
Voter disenfranchisement has ACLU calling for independent counsel
ANCHORAGE - It’s been more than a week since what some have called the city's worst election, and with some voters still upset, a candidate still not conceding, and ballots still being counted there have been calls to do everything from appointing a special counsel to having a special election – a decision that falls into the hands of Anchorage Assembly.
It's a decision that the assembly is carefully considering, because no matter what side you are on or how you voted, one thing is certain: Last week's ballot problems left some voters out in the cold.
Even though it was business as usual in assembly chambers Tuesday night, last week's election and the baggage it left behind clearly weighed on people's minds.
“I believe the code should clarify a responsibility to voters and explicitly say they will not be turned away,” said Assembly Chair Debbie Ossiander.
The ACLU of Alaska is calling it voter disenfranchisement and say no one is investigating exactly how many people weren’t able to vote or why the election happened the way it did.
“Was it 50, was it 500, was it 5,000? We don't know,” said AKCLU Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Mittman showed signed affidaviits from precincts all over town from voters who claim disenfranchisement. He says the solution is appointing a special counsel to figure out exactly what happened.
But municipal attorney Dennis Wheeler says it's too soon to decide right now. “It’s sort of like calling for autopsy when you don't have a body.”
Wheeler says the clerk's office and the Elections Commission still need to compile data, run ballots and look over information on who couldn't vote. Then, he says, the assembly will have all the facts to make a fair decision.
“People are going to want to know what we are going to do to make sure that this doesn't happen again,” said Wheeler. “The question for the assembly in this process is… when there have been mistakes and errors and there's a high level of frustration, what is the right thing to do?”
And that's why mayoral candidate Paul Honeman says he's not conceding the race. “Not exactly; there [are] still a lot of questions out there,” said Honeman. “I believe the voters were disenfranchised. We have certainly seen enough in emails; I have heard a lot of comments everywhere I go. In the end it doesn't matter about the results it matters more that the process was as flawless as possible.”
During Tuesday's assembly meeting Ossiander apologized to voters, potential voters, and election workers for what they had to deal with in terms of ballot problems this year. She says she doesn't believe the election should be certified until they are satisfied about what happened and what its impact was, which is why she is calling a special work session Friday at noon at City Hall.
In the meantime Municipal Clerk Barbara Gruenstein says they are counting envelopes and qualifying questioned voters. On Friday the Election Commission will decide which votes are valid, and then the counting of votes will happen. There’s no word on how long that will take.