High Tensions, Low Turnout Mark Election Commission Special Meeting
Local lawmakers and citizen commission members begin their review of controversial April election
“I’ve never seen a public body break down like this,” he said, his voice carrying angrily through the Wilda Marston Theater.
The Saturday morning meeting was organized last week, following a public election canvass by the commission and continued claims of voter disenfranchisement and other problems stemming from the April 3 municipal election. In the wake of ballot shortages citywide on election night, both the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska and the Municipal Clerk’s office had set up telephone hotlines for voters who were unable to cast a card.
But on the day of the canvass, when the commission announced they’d received a record number of questioned ballots and rejected more than 600 of them for a variety of reasons, only one person arrived to appeal the decision and ask their vote be counted. The questions lingered, though, and a week later, commission members announced the Saturday meeting would be a chance to interview members of the public and further delve for answers.
Rather than an open public forum, the commission members had set up eight tables around the theater, and said they planned on conducting individual interviews to gather perspective on exactly what happened at polling places across town.
Whittaker raised his voice from his seat near the back corner of the room.
Dressed in a camouflage baseball cap emblazoned with an anti-Pebble Mine logo and a battered blue and red Land’s End all-weather jacket, he said he wanted to speak to the entire commission. His vote wasn’t counted, and he believed it should have been. Had the commission read the election laws? He stood up from his seat and said he wanted to know the answer.
Deputy Municipal Clerk Jacqueline Duke walked quickly out of the room in search of a security guard as Whittaker continued addressing the commission members, who sat across the stage facing the nearly-empty room. Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler appeared and told him he was creating a disturbance and would have to leave if he didn’t calm down. Whittaker, who sported a scruffy gray beard and a scowl, told the attorney it was a public forum and he wanted to be publicly heard.
When he arrived at his polling to place on election day, he said he didn’t have his identification card and was told to use a questioned ballot. The next week, he said he received a letter from the Municipal Clerk’s office informing him his vote was rejected because he couldn’t identify himself.
Seated across a table from commission member Sue Kinney, he recounted his story and loudly demanded a legal reference for the rejection. She told him the question should have been raised at the election canvass: Today, the commission simply wanted to gather information about voters’ precinct experiences, she said.
Whittaker raised his voice again.
“You are required to follow election law, and you didn’t!” he said.
“This is not the forum for that,” Kinney said calmly. “Your concerns should have been addressed at the canvass on Tuesday.”