All eyes were tuned into Tuesday night’s assembly meeting to see how last week’s controversial election would be addressed. Out of the gate, Chairwoman Debbie Ossiander offered comments, concerns, and apologies. Her words in part (with added emphasis):
Mr. Hall and I earlier this week met with Mr. Wheeler, the Municipal Attorney, and Ms. Tucker, the Assembly Attorney to ask [the question:] even if we are not required potentially to hold a special election, what parameters govern this body if we do want to call one. Our Municipal Code, Title 28, is silent on this point….
Some of the questions that I believe we still need to ask and clarify is how many ballots were actually delivered to each precinct; since ballots were available, why weren’t they delivered to polling places before polls closed; were election workers trained on what to do if they ran out of election materials, and, if so, what were they told – if not what should they be told in the future….
The certification vote and the election commission report are currently scheduled for our next meeting on the 17th, but, again, I want to emphasize I do not believe we should certify the election until we are satisfied that we understand what happened this year and what its impact was….
Chairwoman Ossiander said that there was still much work to be done, and added that Title 28, which deals with municipal election law, must be amended to add clarity. She closed by reaffirming where the buck stops.
The Anchorage Assembly is responsible for the oversight of the election process. As an Assembly Chair, on behalf of the entire assembly and our departmental staff, I want to apologize to voters, potential voters, and election workers for what they had to deal with in terms of ballot problems this year. I deeply regret that polling places ran out of ballots during this municipal election. Every voter must be allowed to vote. No voter should be turned away. And for as long as I am a member of this body, I will commit to making sure that a situation like this never happens again.
Assemblywoman Harriet Drummond also chimed in:
…I might remind this body that paper… turned out to be the core of the issue in this election. For a few thousand more sheets of paper we would not have had this issue and we seriously have a problem if we can’t print a few more sheets of paper and have them available where they need to be available.
Paper however is not the core issue. According to an April 9 media advisory sent out from the clerk’s office, “sufficient ballots” were printed (Anchorage Charter requires that enough ballots must be printed to cover 70% of all registered voters). The problem developed because city officials “did not allocate enough of the ballots to the individual precincts, given the turnout and number [of] people who voted outside of their precincts.”
The problem was in distribution and other external factors. Election tampering has already been admitted in at least one case, by Jim Minnery, of the Alaska Family Council and the “Protect Your Rights” Prop 5 opponents.
No one at the assembly meeting made mention of this (until testimony from Mel Green of Bent Alaska at the end).
As Bent Alaska readers are already aware, on February 17, Minnery sent out an email to the “Protect Your Rights” group (also sent to his Alaska Family Council mailing list) stating explicitly:
“Sunday, March 4th is the LAST DAY [emphasis his] you can register to vote in the April 3rd Election.”
On April 4, he sent out an email entitled “Humble Pie,” in which he confessed to sending out a mailer instructing people to vote on election day; that Anchorage had same day voter registration. “I should have done more research before sending out the Action Alert,” he confessed in the letter. “I am willing to own up to my mistakes.”
Under Alaska state law, [AS 15.56.035] it is a class A misdemeanor for an individual who “knowingly solicits or encourages, directly or indirectly, a registered voter who is no longer qualified to vote under AS.05.010” – which necessitates that voters must be ”a resident of the state… in which the person seeks to vote for at least 30 days just before the election”.
Minnery needs to be held accountable. The free pass afforded him by elected officials and the media is irresponsible. Mistakes happen, as does forgiveness. But so, too, should media scrutiny and due process of law.
But one case of criminal malconduct isn’t the only invalidating factor already on record. The Anchorage Daily News reported on accounts of photo-copied ballots. While this is creative, it’s also completely illegal. Again, under state law [AS 15.56.035, section 2] “a counterfeit of an official election ballot” is also a class A misdemeanor. It is unlawful interference with voting in the second degree.
This isn’t meant to suggest the arresting of election workers simply trying to accommodate democracy, but instead to point out again that fraud, as defined by state law, is on record as having occurred in Tuesday’s election. Municipal Code clearly states that “voters may contest the election of any person or the approval or rejection of any question or proposition upon one or more of the following grounds: 1. Malconduct, fraud or corruption on the part of an election official sufficient to change the result of the election.” [28.100.010]
We need a new election.
Some dismiss the idea because of the wide disparities within the individual contests. Incumbent Mayor Dan Sullivan fended off challenger Paul Honeman by a 59-38 margin; Prop 5 lost 58-42. The 13,000 question ballots have a very minimal chance of changing who the winners and losers are. But the question ballots are only one of two questions that need to be addressed – the other being the votes not cast. The people turned away, or unable to find a polling place.
The broad language of the municipal code should cause pause. The election can be struck down as invalid if malconduct sufficiently changes the election results. There is no specification that the winner is the result that must change. The addition of a single vote – which was not cast due to suppression or tampering that we know occurred – may not change the winner, but it absolutely changes the result. 52,801 votes were cast. If 52,802 votes were cast, that is a different result. The vote tally is a fundamental part of the election result.
ACLU executive director and vocal Prop 5 supporter Jeffrey Mittman testified before the assembly explaining how, in this case, the election result was sufficiently different as a result of disenfranchisement:
“If this had been one or two precincts, I think this would be a relatively easier task to determine the scope of disenfranchisement. Given 55 precinct places [were] without ballots we cannot ask that question.”
As of Tuesday, the ACLU had received over one hundred and fifty responses on their voter issue hotline, as reported by the ADN.
Mittman attended the meeting to advocate for the assembly’s hiring of an independent legal counsel to investigate the election. The proposal was a last minute addition to the agenda, offered by Assemblywoman Elvi Gray-Jackson. Many expressed reservations about jumping to this action – members Jennifer Johnston, Ernie Hall, Dick Traini, and Patrick Flynn voiced the opinion that such a move should wait until Friday’s scheduled work session, which would be the body’s first chance to hear from the election commission. This would be the prevailing sentiment, as the vote failed, 4-7. Members Birch, Hall, Johnston, Ossiander, Starr, Traini, and Trombley voted in the majority, with Drummond, Flynn, Grey-Jackson, and Honeman dissenting.
The door, however, was not shut on the idea completely as a possible future option.
Mittman felt that waiting was an unnecessary show of restraint, and that the assembly needed to separate their duties from those of the commission. He said that the election commission’s responsibility was to count the votes cast. Answering to the votes that were, for one reason or another, not cast was the duty of the assembly.
Assemblywoman Harriet Drummond, speaking in defense of the failed measure, drew applause with parting comments on the topic:
This body has, over the last several years… approved the expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars on independent investigations of various issues. But none of them investigate anything nearly as important or fundamental to the democratic process as the election process.
The night ended with public comment, which came in the form of a healthy late night appeal for what many perceive to be justice. Quantifiable testimony was put forth from people who offered first hand accounts of being turned away from the polls, being unable to find a poll with available ballots, having ballots rejected from the machine.
The only clear takeaway from the night’s proceedings is that there is no clear end in sight. The debacle could have many layers yet to unfold. At the next assembly meeting, reorganization of the body is slated to take place. Alaska Commons has a sneaking suspicion, based solely on tonight’s interactions, that Ernie Hall will wind up the new chair. Also, Friday’s work session will provide us with another page in the unfolding story, and will set some ink in place as to the next steps the assembly will take as they try to get this right.
[featured image courtesy of Elstun Lauesen]