From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage —
When some Anchorage precincts ran out of ballots on Election Day, frustrated voters were asked to cast substitute ballots. They selected their mayor using ballots printed for faraway precincts. They marked their vote on a controversial gay rights proposal on blue sample ballots or hastily made photocopies.
On Thursday, 1,800 of those makeshift ballots were being counted at City Hall even as election officials and city leaders work to untangle just what went wrong April 3. The substitute ballots couldn't be counted alongside regular ballots the night of the election because they're incompatible with voting machines, said city clerk Barbara Gruenstein.
“These are the ones that people showed up at their own home precincts … but there was a shortage of ballots,” Gruenstein said. “So they voted a sample ballot that won’t slide through the machine.”
The city will release the results of the 1,800 "unscannable" votes as soon as they become available, Gruenstein said.
Also on Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska announced it had made a public records request calling on the city to produce detailed paperwork that would reveal how many ballots were sent to each precinct, the names of people who voted questioned ballots and other information.
The latest counting effort, which began at 2 p.m., is one more step toward learning exactly how many people cast eligible ballots in the city elections and who they voted for. A trickier question – how many people tried to vote but were unable to because of the shortages? – will be harder to answer.
The ballots counted Thursday will add to the total of nearly 55,000 votes that were tallied the night of the election. Thousands more votes – including absentee ballots and questioned ballots – remain uncounted.
That effort was expected to begin Friday. But canvassing has now been rescheduled for Tuesday, according to the clerk’s office.
During the canvass, the Election Commission identifies the number of eligible votes remaining to be counted. It must be completed before the final count of questioned and absentee ballots can begin.
Meantime, Assembly members will get a chance to get their questions answered Friday during a work session with the Election Commission scheduled for noon to 2 p.m. at Loussac Library.
The major contests in the city election, including the mayor’s race and a controversial gay rights proposition, were decided by many thousands of votes. Those outcomes are unlikely to change even after all the counting is finished.
But the ballot woes revealed potential weaknesses in the city election process.
What will the city do to avoid similar problems next year?
“We will have a lot more ballots going out to the precincts,” Gruenstein said. “I’m sure there will be a lots of other steps. The Assembly is very interested in what’s going on.”
“The election code hasn’t been looked at for a couple, for a number of years, so we had already thought about doing that anyways," she said.
Gruenstein talked above the tinny chirping and buzzing of voting machines as workers sifted through blue sample cards.
Meantime, stacks of unused, legitimate ballots sat on a nearby table. The city printed enough ballots for a 70 percent turnout. The actual voter turnout will be between 30 and 40 percent, said Assemblyman and mayoral candidate Paul Honeman. That means there may have been plenty of ballots, they just weren't at the right place at the right time.
Gruenstein said many were held back at City Hall, based on historic voting trends and best estimates within the clerk’s office of how many ballots were needed at each precinct.
Honeman, who trails Mayor Dan Sullivan by more than 11,000 votes according to ballots tallied so far, said he is leaning toward calling for a revote.
Midtown Assemblywoman Elvi Gray-Jackson on Tuesday proposed that the city hire an external investigator to look into the shortages. The
effort was rejected 7-4. Some Assembly members said they favored an investigation but wanted more information from the Election Commission
before beginning a probe.