The Kenai Peninsula Borough will go through with purchasing and leasing several ADA-compliant voting machines, six years after a complaint from a vision-impaired Homer man triggered a reassessment of voting accessibility on the peninsula. The plan to buy several Dominion Voting Systems machines and lease over two dozen others was primarily a response to that complaint. But it became controversial when former President Donald Trump and his followers made Dominion a target late last year, claiming the 2020 election was rigged. Rigorous audits across the U.S. have found Dominion machines to be accurate. And the borough actually already uses Dominion machines — they’re just not ADA compliant. Borough IT Systems Manager Ben Hanson said the new machines are largely the same on the backend. “The biggest difference as far as what we’re looking to implement is the ADA-compliant piece,” he said. “The ADA-compliant machine — which the vast majority of people will not use, the vast majority of people will likely still fill out a paper ballot — that ADA-compliant machine allows for the multiple methods of access.”
A bill that would change how state and local elections are conducted generated controversy even before it was debated by lawmakers. Senate Bill 39 sponsored by Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, is not intended to make it more difficult to vote, he said at a State Affairs Committee hearing Thursday, but to bring trust back to Alaska’s elections. However, even before that meeting critics had said the bill would only make it hard for Alaskans to vote. The bill would implement changes in how ballots are handled by both the Division of Elections and local municipalities which run their own elections. Many of the changes are centered around the chain of custody in handling ballots. Shower’s chief of staff Terrance Shanigan said in testimony to the committee that Alaska’s statutes around the handling of ballots are vague, which led to inconsistent policies and procedures.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Wednesday Alaska will not be joining the state of Texas and 16 other Republican attorneys general in a lawsuit alleging unlawful election proceedings in several states where President Donald Trump lost in his reelection bid. In a post on Facebook Dunleavy said his office did not have enough time to review the facts of the case, but would be watching the results closely. “Electoral integrity remains a cornerstone of our democracy, and every American should know that their vote matters,” Dunleavy said in his post. The Supreme Court is set to hear the case which demands the 62 total Electoral College votes in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin be invalidated, but a date has not been set according to The Associated Press. Wednesday President Trump requested he be allowed to join as a plaintiff one day after the U.S. Supreme Court refused without comment to call into question the certification process in Pennsylvania, The AP reported.
Alaska: Elections data exposure affected 113,000 Alaskans but had no impact on November results, state officials say | Aubrey Wieber/Anchorage Daily News
A data exposure caught by elections officials in October compromised the personal information of 113,000 Alaskans but had no impact on the actual election results, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer said Thursday. The exposure involved the online voter registration database, which is separate from the voter tabulation system. “The results of the election are accurate, and we have been doing hand counts to verify that,” Meyer told reporters Thursday. State officials said “outside actors” accessed the data through a flaw in the online voter registration system, which has since been patched. They were able to pull registered voters’ names, dates of birth, state identification numbers, last four digits of Social Security numbers, addresses and party affiliations. (Party affiliations, names and addresses are already publicly available through the state’s voter information database.) The online voter registration system, which is only 5 years old, is separate from the overall registered voter database. It only includes people who have updated their voter information in the past five years.
Alaska officials say hackers stole voter info, didn’t compromise election integrity | Nathaniel Herz/Alaska Public Media
State officials said Thursday that hackers stole personal information including birth dates and driver’s license numbers of more than 100,000 Alaska voters, though they stressed there was no effect on the results of last month’s election. The hackers gained unauthorized access to data in the state’s online voter registration system, which was built and maintained by a contractor and operated by the Alaska Division of Elections, officials said in a prepared statement Thursday. Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, who supervises Alaska’s election system, learned of the hack Oct. 27, his office said in the statement. “I have some sad news. The state of Alaska was the victim of data exposure by outside actors,” Meyer said at a news conference Thursday. While personal information was exposed, he added, “No other election systems or data were affected.” Officials said the flaw that exposed the data has been fixed, and Alaskans’ information is now secure, but it’s still not known exactly which records were stolen. The exposed data includes names, birth dates, driver’s license numbers, addresses, party affiliations, and the last four digits of social security numbers.
Alaska: Lawsuit challenges new ranked-choice voting ballot measure | James Brooks/Anchorage Daily News
The Alaskan Independence Party, its chairman and two Anchorage residents are suing the state of Alaska to overturn Ballot Measure 2, a sweeping election reform initiative that would install ranked-choice voting in Alaska’s general elections. Their lawsuit, filed Tuesday, claims that the measure would violate the plaintiffs’ rights “to free political association, free speech, right to petition, right to due process” and other rights guaranteed by the Alaska and U.S. constitutions. Filed against the state of Alaska and the Alaska Division of Elections, the lawsuit requests that the measure be nullified, that it not be used in future elections, and for “costs, damages, and attorney fees as may be appropriate.” If plaintiffs win, Alaska would keep its existing elections system. Attorney Ken Jacobus, also one of the plaintiffs, said he wrote the lawsuit broadly in hopes that other plaintiffs will join. Christine Hutchison, a member of the Alaska Republican Party Central Committee, said she will request that the party’s leaders discuss the lawsuit at their next meeting on Dec. 7. Hutchison shared her thoughts Tuesday afternoon as a caller on the KSRM Kenai talk radio show hosted by the Independence Party’s chairman, Bob Bird. Earlier this year, Republican Party chairman Glenn Clary told lawmakers that if the measure passed, his party would consider a legal challenge.
Alaska Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer said he plans to seek an audit of votes cast on a statewide ballot initiative to help put to rest questions some have raised about the “validity” of election results tied to the vote tabulation equipment the state uses. Meyer, who oversees elections in Alaska, said the state is charged with conducting a “fair and honest election, and I believe we’ve done that.” Meyer said the only reason he’s seeking an audit is because “so many people think our Dominion machines are faulty, corrupt and easily manipulated, and I think a lot of this is misinformation that’s coming from the national level.” President Donald Trump and some supporters have sought to sow doubt in the results of his race by attacking Dominion Voting Systems, one of the largest voting technology providers in the U.S., despite no evidence of any serious irregularities. Alaska has used the company for years and got new Dominion machines it used for the first time in this year’s primary election, Meyer said.
Alaska: Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer says no fraud found in 2020 election, but he will ask for an audit to reassure voters | James Brooks/Anchorage Daily News
The elected official in charge of Alaska’s 2020 election said on Wednesday that he has seen no evidence of fraud or illegal activity in this year’s vote. “No, we have not seen anything that looks like fraud or looks weird or looks like an irregularity,” Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer said after the Alaska Division of Elections published final unofficial results. As of 12:14 p.m. Wednesday, 360,684 votes had been counted in Alaska’s 2020 general election. That’s the most votes ever cast in an Alaska election. Election officials will now spend a week double-checking the machine-counted result. Officials expect to certify the result Nov. 25. After that, any losing candidate can request a recount. “We do not accept recount applications until the election has been certified,” said Tiffany Montemayor, the division’s public relations manager. Meyer said on Wednesday that although he cannot request a recount, he intends to take the extraordinary step of asking officials to count all Ballot Measure 2 votes by hand. “It’s never been done,” Meyer said. That hand audit would take place after the results are certified.
Alaska: Votes tip in favor of election-reform measure as state counts thousands more absentee ballots | James Brooks/Anchorage Daily News
A measure seeking to reform Alaska’s election system is on track to become law if current trends hold, after the Alaska Division of Elections counted more than 37,000 additional early, absentee and questioned ballots on Thursday. Elections officials are counting votes daily and publishing updates regularly, with 326,840 of an estimated 361,000 ballots counted by 7 p.m. Thursday. More votes will be counted Friday. No state legislative races changed leaders in Thursday’s count, though several independent and Democratic candidates reduced the leads of challengers who received large shares of votes cast on Election Day. With about 34,000 ballots uncounted, there are only 497 more yes votes on Ballot Measure 2 than no votes, a difference of 0.1%. The measure trailed by 13 percentage points after Election Day, but early and absentee voters have favored it much more than Election Day voters. Alaska counts early, absentee and questioned ballots starting one week after Election Day, and continues counting through Nov. 18. Ballot Measure 2 is a three-part proposal that would put state candidates into a combined primary election for each office, and the top four vote-getters — regardless of party — would advance to a ranked-choice general election. It would also require campaign donors to more fully disclose the source of certain contributions in some races.
Alaska: Here’s why Alaska is the slowest in the nation when it comes to vote counting | Nathaniel Herz/Alaska Public Media
Questions, confusion and speculation about Alaska’s vote-counting process have erupted as state officials wait to count more than 100,000 absentee and other ballots until next week — long after other U.S. states count the vast majority of their votes. Alaska won’t start tallying its remaining ballots — at least 40% of the total — until Tuesday at the earliest, making the state stand out as a gray island in the ubiquitous red and blue electoral vote maps used by national outlets. It’s the only one to have counted less than 60% of its votes, according to figures collected by The New York Times. The timeline is one that Alaska has used before. But in past years, the absentee vote count has typically been an afterthought that affects only the closest of races. This year’s massive, pandemic-driven absentee turnout has changed that. State officials said the wait stems from Alaska’s huge size and complicated logistics: It has polling places in dozens of villages with no road access. Officials said they also need the extra week to finish the time-consuming process of logging the names of each Alaskan who voted on Election Day, then cross-referencing with absentee ballots to make sure no one’s votes are counted twice.
Alaska election officials plan to begin counting more than 155,000 absentee and other ballots Tuesday, a week after Election Day. Some have questioned or criticized the lag, citing a provision of state law that says the counting of reviewed absentee ballots should begin the night of the election. But Maria Bahr, an Alaska Department of Law spokesperson, said absentee ballots are not deemed eligible for counting until voter histories have been run to guard against any possible duplicate votes. The process involves going through precinct registers, which election officials were still receiving Monday, Division of Elections spokesperson Tiffany Montemayor said. She said it can take time for mail to arrive in the vast state. “We’re using every resource that we can to get those things in as fast as we can,” she said. Election officials urged patience ahead of the election, anticipating a large volume of absentee ballots and saying it would take time for results to be known. Some campaigns emphasized absentee and early voting amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Alaska: Emails sent to Deocrats on Tuesday warned them to “vote for Trump or else” | By Nathaniel Herz/Alaska Public Media
Alaskans across the state received emails Tuesday morning warning them to “vote for Trump or else,” in an incident that’s drawn the attention of the FBI and the state Division of Elections. In emails and social media posts, more than a dozen Alaskans reported that messages were sent to people in Anchorage, Soldotna, Kenai, Homer, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg, Ketchikan, Bristol Bay, Denali Park, Palmer and the Fairbanks area. News reports from Florida indicated that the same messages were sent to at least 183 voters there.In a copy of the email shared by Anchorage resident Kane Stanton, the sender told Stanton that “we are in possession of all your information (email, address, telephone).” “You are currently registered as a Democrat and we know this because we have gained access into the entire voting infrastructure,” said the message to Stanton, a 36-year-old hardware store manager. “You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you. Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply.”
Alaska: Lawsuit says automatically mailing absentee ballot applications only to those 65 and older is unconstitutional | Andrew Kitchenman/Alaska Public Media
A lawsuit over the state’s decision to automatically send absentee ballot applications only to those 65 and older is headed to federal court. The lawsuit alleges that the action unconstitutionally discriminates against younger voters. Anchorage lawyer Scott Kendall filed the lawsuit on behalf of several plaintiffs. “Our lawsuit’s very simple: You want to help people to vote absentee? We applaud it. Help all eligible vote absentee in the same way,” he said. “And don’t discriminate in an unconstitutional fashion.” Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer announced in June that the state would be sending requests to vote by mail to all Alaskans 65 and older. He cited the increased risk that older people face for complications from COVID-19. The lawsuit was filed by the Disability Law Center of Alaska, Native Peoples Action Community Fund, Alaska Public Interest Research Group and two residents. The lawsuit said limiting who automatically receives the applications violates the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says the rights of citizens 18 and older to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of age. And the lawsuit said that word “abridged” is key — and that it means some voters can’t have a better opportunity to vote than others. Kendall said the age cutoff is arbitrary.
Alaska: State plans to mail absentee ballot applications to seniors, prompting calls to send them to all Alaska voters | Andrew Kitchenman/Alaska Public Media
Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer has announced a plan to mail absentee ballot applications to Alaskans ages 65 and older. Some lawmakers and voting advocates are concerned that this would create unequal access to those who don’t automatically get ballot applications. During an online town hall on Thursday, Meyer described why the Division of Elections will be mailing absentee ballot applications to all registered voters who are 65 and older: They have a greater risk of getting COVID-19. “That is a very vulnerable group,” said Meyer, a Republican. Meyer said the state Division of Elections is hearing it directly from seniors who have worked at the polls in the past. “A lot of these people right now are reluctant to commit, because they’re worried about the virus, or the pandemic,” he said. “And they should be, and if they’re not comfortable, we don’t want them to come out.” Meyer said the state is encouraging voters to request absentee ballots or to vote early to reduce the lines on election day. Some think the state should go further, and send the applications to all registered voters.
Alaska: Lieutenant governor rules out by-mail elections for Alaska’s August primary | James Brooks/Anchorage Daily News
The state of Alaska will keep in-person polling places open during its Aug. 18 primary election, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer said Friday. That announcement bucks the trend set by other West Coast states. A week ago, California said it would conduct its elections entirely by mail this year in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Oregon and Washington already have successful by-mail election programs, and Hawaii’s was already set to begin this year. “We’ve determined that the best way to go is to go with our current process, but with some modifications,” Meyer said. He said he has not yet determined the status of the November general election. “I’m thinking primary, just because nobody knows what the virus will look like in early November,” he said. Under the Alaska Constitution, the lieutenant governor is the top official in charge of the state’s elections. Meyer said poll workers will be provided with protective equipment, and Alaskans who vote in person will be given a mask and latex gloves if they do not have them when they come to a polling station.
Alaska: Emergency law may require Alaskans to vote by mail in August election | James Brooks/Anchorage Daily News
The Alaska Senate approved a proposal Tuesday that would give the lieutenant governor the power to order statewide elections by mail if warranted by the spread of COVID-19. That power was among several the Senate sought to give Alaska’s executive branch as it unanimously approved a sweeping emergency bill intended to address the health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill would extend the governor’s declaration of a public health emergency through Sept. 1 and grant him special powers. The bill passed unanimously by the Senate allows by-mail elections only for the August statewide primary and any special election before Sept. 1, such as the proposed recall of Gov. Mike Dunleavy. If the Legislature were to extend the public health emergency through November, the lieutenant governor would have the power to order the November general election to be conducted by mail, also. Anchorage conducts municipal elections by mail and the Alaska Democratic Party is holding a by-mail election for president. The state does not universally conduct elections by mail, although tens of thousands of absentee ballots are cast each election by mail.
The state of Alaska is replacing the voting machines used in Fairbanks and elsewhere starting with the August 2020 state primary election, according to state and borough elections officials. That means Tuesday’s election was the last regular election for the AccuVote machines that have been used here for the past 20 years. The new machines are ImageCast Precinct ballot counters, or ICPs. The voter experience will not change much, officials said. People will continue to vote privately in a booth and then feed their ballot into a machine that tabulates the votes. The process will take a few seconds longer because the new technology captures an image of each ballot, officials said. The city of Valdez has been using the ICP machines for a few years. The clerk said they work well. “We love it. My voters love it. I haven’t had any problems with their equipment at all,” Valdez City Clerk Sheri Pierce said. The machines are made by Dominion Voting Systems, the same company that manufactured the AccuVote machines.
All three parties filed briefs and objections last Friday to a ruling on the lawsuit holding up Alaska’s House District 1 election. Two months after election day, the Alaska Supreme Court is scheduled to hear each party argue their points at an oral hearing this Friday morning, Jan. 4. In the meantime, the state House is at a standstill, unable to elect a speaker until a majority is decided. The careful, persnickety points each party argues can be fascinating, or frustrating. Half the voters in this downtown Fairbanks district voted for each side. The race was certified as a tie between Democrat Kathryn Dodge and Republican Bart LeBon, until the Nov. 30 recount put LeBon one vote ahead.
Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer said Monday that he wants an audit of Alaska’s election system following irregularities in the last two primaries. Meyer, a Republican, said the more he’s learning about the Division of Elections, the more he thinks it has done a “pretty good job.” He noted the division found irregularities in a state House primary this year, which the division previously said resulted in 26 suspect ballots being sent to the Department of Law for further review. In that race, the division said it had received seven absentee ballot applications for people that records indicated were dead. The division said it did not send ballots to those requestors. But Meyer said those irregularities and actions by some election workers in a 2016 House primary raised concerns. Questions arose in 2016 around election worker training in certain rural precincts.
The Democrat who lost a recount by one vote in a contested Alaska House race said Wednesday she will challenge the results. Kathryn Dodge said she disagreed with decisions the Division of Elections made on some ballots and will file required paperwork with the Alaska Supreme Court. A recount, held Friday in the Fairbanks race, showed Republican Bart LeBon winning by one vote. During the recount, Dodge picked up another vote, while LeBon picked up two. “This race has gone back and forth, favoring me and my opponent at one time or another during a lengthy process,” Dodge said in a statement. “I believe that it is important to follow the process through so that absolutely no doubt remains about this incredibly close result.”
It’s a sign that every vote does count. A single mystery ballot found on a precinct table on Election Day but not counted then could decide a tied Alaska state House race and thwart Republican efforts to control the chamber and all of state government. The ballot arrived in Juneau last Friday in a secrecy sleeve in a bin with other ballot materials. Officials were investigating its origins and handling before deciding whether to tally it. “People kept calling it close,” Democrat candidate Kathryn Dodge said of the race for the House seat in Fairbanks. “I just didn’t know it was going to be squeaky.” A recount is scheduled for Friday after the race between Dodge and Republican Bart LeBon was previously certified as a tie, at 2,661 votes apiece. The uncounted ballot appears to be marked for Dodge.
A divided federal appeals court panel ruled Tuesday that Alaska’s cap on total contributions that candidates can receive from nonresidents is unconstitutional. However, the three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld other campaign contribution limits that it said were tailored to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption. The case brought by three individuals and an Alaska Republican Party district challenged elements of state campaign finance law. An attorney for the plaintiffs did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, in a statement, expressed disappointment that the court struck down limits on nonresident contributions but said she was pleased with the rest of the ruling. Her agency said it was reviewing the decision and evaluating next steps.
A coin toss could determine who controls the Alaska House. After the latest count, Republican Bart LeBon and Democrat Kathryn Dodge are tied in the race for the state house seat that represents downtown Fairbanks. There are a couple of steps that have to happen before the race could come down to a coin toss. On Friday, election workers will audit the remaining absentee ballots. If the vote count is still tied after that, then there will be a recount. And if the recount doesn’t change the results, state law mandates that the winner is determined “by lot.” That could take the form of a coin toss or another method of determining a winner by chance.
Some election results from the Alaska primary could be delayed after more than 100,000 voters were given a month to clear up discrepancies with their addresses on voting records. Election officials have not given an exact count of how many did so, but those who didn’t may have to vote a questioned ballot in Tuesday’s primary election. That creates the potential for a delay in election results, especially in tight races, since election officials do not begin counting questioned ballots until a week after the election. “I think the problem is, we don’t know the breadth of the issue right now, so until we know the breadth of the issue, I don’t know that we know the questions to ask,” Stacey Stone, an attorney for the Alaska Republican Party, told The Associated Press. Josie Bahnke, the elections director, was too busy with the election to talk to a reporter, her spokeswoman said.
Early voting for the state’s primary elections starts Monday. However, there is a slight change to the process this year due to the current threat of foreign cyber attacks. The Alaska Division of Elections (DOE) said it is suspending the return of ballots online until security advancements can be made to the state voting system. “We want our voters to feel confident in our elections system and that their votes are secure, which is why we are taking proactive steps to improve how we safeguard their ballots as we head into this year’s elections,” said State Elections Director Josie Bahnke.
The Alaska Division of Elections is in the middle of preparations for this fall’s statewide primary and general elections, but in a meeting Wednesday, the division showed it also has its eyes on 2020. In a meeting of the statewide election policy task force, division officials said they are preparing to acquire new voting equipment even as they consider whether the state should change the way it conducts elections. “It’s kind of two separate projects. It’s equipment replacement and it’s expanding options for ballot access in the future,” Josie Bahnke, the division’s director, said by phone after the meeting. Nothing will change before this year’s Aug. 21 primary or the Nov. 6 general election. Voters will still go to polling stations across the state, they’ll still pick up pens, and they’ll still fill in ovals on paper ballots, then feed those ballots into 20-year-old scanners.
Officials with the state and with Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, hope to avoid any confusion about voting in this year’s primary and general elections. Anchorage has moved to a vote-by-mail system for its local elections. However, the state has not gone that route and will conduct the Aug. 21 primary and Nov. 6 general elections as normal. That typically means voting in person. However, a voter also can request an absentee ballot, which can be returned in the mail — one of the options the state offers for casting ballots. Samantha Miller, communications manager for the state Division of Elections, said officials with the division and municipality planned to meet Monday to discuss the upcoming elections.
The Anchorage League of Women Voters has sent a resolution to the State of Alaska asking it to adopt the mail-in ballot for the General Election. It’s not clear from the resolution if the League wants only Anchorage to be able to conduct the General Election with a mail-in ballot, or if the League expects the entire state to “go postal” in November. The resolution sent to the Division of Elections leaves that open to interpretation and seems to suggest a hybrid of regular and mail-in voting for areas outside of Anchorage. But Anchorage would be all mail-in, as it did in the Municipal Election in April. The wording “supports the State of Alaska utilizing the Municipality of Anchorage new vote-by-mail system beginning with the State of Alaska elections in 2018;” It’s the first public push from mail-in ballot proponents to get the entire state on the system.
As the Alaska Legislature held a Thursday hearing examining the security state’s election system, the Alaska Division of Elections responded to claims that a hacker penetrated its systems on Election Day 2016. Earlier this week, the Anchorage Daily News published details of a previously undisclosed penetration of the division’s computer systems. The division has previously said Alaska was among the 21 states identified by the Department of Homeland Security as targets of Russian vulnerability scans, but it had not discussed an event on the morning of Election Day itself. In that event, exposed by emails first obtained by the ADN (and subsequently obtained by the Associated Press and the Empire), a hacker identified on Twitter as @cyberzeist published pictures of the administrative tools the division uses to share election results with the public.
It wasn’t until Anchorage Daily News reporter Nat Herz caught wind of irregularities in the 2016 General Election that the Division of Elections admitted its computers had been hacked not once, but twice. The second attack was at 5:37 am on Election Day, 2016. In what could be viewed as a cover-up by the Division of Elections, Election Division Director Josie Bahnke said she didn’t disclose it because the attack had no effect on the outcome of the elections. Emails uncovered by Herz support that assertion but do not explain why no report was made to the public in the year and a half that followed, especially after the September, 2017 notification of Russian intrusion into Alaska’s Election Division data, which had also occurred in 2016.