State lawmakers call primary election illegal
The Division of Elections is working to certify results from the Aug. 16 primary despite what lawmakers say are illegal mistakes made on election night.
One of the most notable mix-ups happened at the polls in the northern village of Shungnak, part of House District 40, where unofficial results show Rep. Benjamin Nageak, of Barrow, losing to Dean Westlake, of Kotzebue, by just 21 votes.
In Shungnak, voters were given both Republican and Democratic ballots, an action that violates state law, which specifies, “A voter may vote only one primary election ballot.”
Senate President Kevin Meyer called the election illegal.
“We know some statutes were broken, we discussed them earlier. How do you certify an election that was not legal?” Meyer asked Division of Elections director Josie Bahnke.
Bahnke responded that she didn’t have the Department of Law with her during the meeting.
When KTVA later followed up on the question, Bahnke replied in an email, “Everyone who voted the ADL (Alaska Democratic Party, Alaska Libertarian Party, and Alaskan Independence Party) ballot in Shungnak was legally entitled to do so, and no one could double-vote for a single candidate. So while certainly no one is supposed to vote both primary ballots, all votes cast on the ADL ballot were legitimate votes.”
Bahnke called the election “perfectly legal.”
“The question is how/whether we count particular ballots that may not have been validly cast and that determination is made as part of the review process, which is not yet complete,” she wrote.
According to Bahnke, the review process includes matching the number of signatures from voters in a precinct to the number of ballots collected.
In an earlier interview with KTVA Monday, Bahnke said she didn’t know what the process would be for determining which of the two ballots cast by each voter in Shungnak would count.
“We’re getting there, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing instead of talking to you, so can I go do my job?” she replied.
The fact that the division is pushing to certify the results — allowing a winner to be sworn into office — has some lawmakers concerned.
“If this is certified and the person it is certified in favor of ultimately does not prevail in a future special election, or a future audit, I think the impact on voter morale and voter confidence is devastating,” said Sen. Lesil McGuire.
The mistake in Shungnak appears to have happened because of a lack of training for election staff. While state law requires a mandatory training each election cycle, Bahnke said the division doesn’t guarantee workers receive the training, which in many cases is electronic.
“There’s really no ramification for them not to attend,” Bahnke said. “For example, we don’t ask them not to perform an election on Election Day if they have not received training.”
Bahnke said she expects the Division of Elections to publish certified election results by Friday, Sept. 2.
After this story ran on air, a viewer from the western village of Koyuk — who asked to remain anonymous — called KTVA to report a similar issue in his precinct. He said he was also given two ballots at the poll, one for each party.