Alaska: Fairbanks Borough Assembly says ‘no’ to mail-in ballots, raises mill rate slightly | Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly shot down a proposal to change voting in local elections from the ballot box to the mailbox, but it was clear something needs to be done to boost voter turnout. The assembly voted down an ordinance authored by Assemblyman Lance Roberts to implement vote-by-mail elections in the Fairbanks borough during its meeting Thursday night, with Roberts casting the lone “yes” vote for the measure. The move was, in part, an effort to make voting in municipal elections more convenient in the hopes of boosting voter turnout. Turnout in the last two municipal elections has been historically low at 16.7 percent last year and 14.4 percent in 2013.

Alaska: Anchorage Assembly votes to recertify runoff election after ballots found | Alaska Dispatch News

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday recertified the mayoral runoff election, taking into account 58 ballots not previously tallied that altered the result by 0.01 percent but did not change the outcome. Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones, who oversees municipal elections, said the bulk of the uncounted ballots were found inside a silver ballot box in a conference room in City Hall. Absentee ballots sent by mail are moved between three rooms — including the conference room — and two floors during the counting process. The day after the Assembly certified the runoff election on May 19, staffers discovered the silver box with the ballots still in their envelopes, she said.

Alaska: Fairbanks to consider mail-in ballots | Juneau Empire

Looking to boost voter turnout, the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly will consider an ordinance creating a system to vote by mail in borough elections. Assemblymen Lance Roberts and Karl Kassel are backing the ordinance, which will be considered this month and could take effect in 2016, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. “Voter participation within the borough is not the greatest,” Kassel said. “I am hoping that we can get more people to participate by making it easier for them.”

Alaska: Lawmakers eye ways to improve voter access to polls | Alaska Dispatch

Come next election, Alaskans may be able to register to vote as late as Election Day under bills introduced in the Senate and House that call for elimination of the current 30-day pre-election voter cutoff. Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, ran for lieutenant governor last year and discussed voting issues and problems with people all over the state, she said. “The biggest issue people had was access to voting and making it easier,” she said. “We have really low rates in our state.” McGuire’s bill, Senate Bill 93, and a companion bill, House Bill 95, would allow Alaskans to register and vote on the same day. Now, they must have been registered a month before an election to cast a ballot.

Alaska: Unity ticket defeats Alaska GOP Gov. Sean Parnell in drawn-out race | Los Angeles Times

A novel unity ticket featuring independent Bill Walker and Democrat Byron Mallott has defeated Republican Gov. Sean Parnell of Alaska in an election so excruciatingly close that its outcome was not known until 10 days after the polls closed. As of late Friday, Alaska elections officials said Walker and Mallott’s ticket received 47.9% of the vote to 46% for the incumbent Parnell. That amounted to a margin of less than 4,700 votes out of almost 270,000 cast. The Associated Press called the race late Friday. The campaign itself was unusual: Mallott had won the Democratic nomination earlier this year, but he and Walker deduced that a three-person race would be won by Parnell, so the two formed a unity ticket.

Alaska: Electronic ballots raise concerns in outstanding Alaska races | The Hill

Election watchdog groups are worried about the role electronically submitted ballots in Alaska might play in the state’s two tight federal elections. Ballots returned online are vulnerable to cyberattacks and lack a proper paper trail, said government accountability advocate Common Cause and election oversight group Verified Voting. Alaska’s gubernatorial and Senate races have both dragged on long after Election Day, with opponents split by narrow margins. Early Wednesday, The Associated Press declared former Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan (R) the winner over incumbent Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), even though 30,000 ballots remain uncounted. Begich has yet to concede. Former Valdez, Alaska, Mayor Bill Walker (I) maintains a thin lead over incumbent Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R), although the race remains too close to call. If either race “is to be determined by ballots sent over the Internet, its legitimacy is in doubt,” said Verified Voting President Pamela Smith.

Alaska: State to Begin Counting More Than 53,000 Ballots | Associated Press

Alaska will begin counting more than 53,000 absentee and questioned ballots on Tuesday in an effort to resolve the state’s unsettled contests for the Senate and for governor. Democratic Sen. Mark Begich trailed Republican challenger Dan Sullivan by about 8,100 votes after Election Night. Begich is banking on the uncounted votes after waging an aggressive ground game in rural Alaska. The outcome of the new round of vote-counting won’t change the balance of the Senate. Republicans gained seven seats in last week’s election, more than enough to grab the Senate majority for the remainder of President Barack Obama’s presidency. The limbo between Election Night and the outcome of the new count created a vacuum the candidates’ spokesmen sought to fill. “Every Alaskan deserves to have their vote counted, and past experience indicates that counting these votes will favor Begich and draw this race closer,” Begich’s spokesman, Max Croes, said in an email Monday to The Associated Press. Begich has returned to Washington, D.C., for the lame duck session.

Alaska: Uncounted votes grow in Alaska Senate race | Alaska Dispatch

The number of uncounted votes in Alaska’s tightly fought U.S. Senate race grew by 21,000 between Wednesday and Friday — and more than 5,000 of those were votes that hadn’t been predicted in early accounts of the number of ballots outstanding. After election night on Tuesday, incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich trailed Republican challenger Dan Sullivan by 8,000 votes, or 3.6 percent, and both campaigns have been closely watching as state elections officials collect additional ballots cast by mail, or at more than 200 so-called “absentee in-person voting locations” around the state, where people could vote early. More than 40,000 ballots will likely be counted starting Tuesday, though the number will probably climb even more before then. To win, Begich would have to reverse election night trends and win a substantial majority — though his allies have pointed out that in the count following Election Day in 2008, Begich overcame a 3,000 vote deficit to Republican Ted Stevens and ultimately won by 4,000 votes. The spike between Wednesday and Friday was a reflection of state elections officials’ new accounting for more than 13,000 provisional ballots, 2,200 absentee ballots submitted by fax, mail or email, and some 5,200 ballots cast early at the in-person absentee voting locations across the state.

Alaska: Knowns and Unknowns Among Uncounted Ballots | Alaska Public Media

With a few candidates up and down the ticket unsure whether they won or lost, a lot of Alaskans are looking to the thousands of ballots that remain uncounted. Division of Elections chief Gail Fenumiai says it’s too early to say exactly how many ballots are outstanding. “Right now we have, in the offices within the state, 23,608 absentee and early votes that are eligible to be counted,” said at mid-day today. They are from voters who live throughout the state, not in any particular district. “The majority of them are from non-rural areas of the state, meaning Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, the Mat-Su area,” she said. Those are, if you will, the known unknowns. But there are thousands of other kinds of ballots to be added to the total. It’s not clear how many are in these other categories.

Alaska: Online Voting Leaves Cybersecurity Experts Worried | IEEE Spectrum

Some Americans who lined up at the ballot boxes on Tuesday may have wished for the convenience of online voting. But cybersecurity experts continue to argue that such systems would be vulnerable to vote tampering — warnings that did not stop Alaska from allowing voters to cast electronic ballots in a major election that had both a Senate seat and the governorship up for grabs. There was no evidence of tampering during the first use of Alaska’s online voting system in 2012. But cybersecurity experts have gone on the record as saying that hackers could easily compromise or alter online voting results without being detected. Alaska’s own election site includes a disclaimer about votes cast through online voting or by fax. “When returning the ballot through the secure online voting solution, your are voluntarily waiving your right to a secret ballot and are assuming the risk that a faulty transmission may occur,” according to Alaska’s Division of Elections website.

Alaska: Hackers Could Decide Who Controls Congress Thanks to Alaska’s Terrible Internet Ballots | The Intercept

When Alaska voters go to the polls tomorrow to help decide whether the U.S. Senate will remain in Democratic control, thousands will do so electronically, using Alaska’s first-in-the-nation internet voting system. And according to the internet security experts, including the former top cybersecurity official for the Department of Homeland Security, that system is a security nightmare that threatens to put control of the U.S. Congress in the hands of foreign or domestic hackers. Any registered Alaska voter can obtain an electronic ballot, mark it on their computers using a web-based interface, save the ballot as a PDF, and return it to their county elections department through what the state calls “a dedicated secure data center behind a layer of redundant firewalls under constant physical and application monitoring to ensure the security of the system, voter privacy, and election integrity.” That sounds great, but even the state acknowledges in an online disclaimer that things could go awry, warning that “when returning the ballot through the secure online voting solution, your are voluntarily waving [sic] your right to a secret ballot and are assuming the risk that a faulty transmission may occur.”

Alaska: ‘Over-voting’ was common problem for absentee voters | Juneau Empire

The review of absentee and questioned ballots cast in Tuesday’s municipal election revealed a general sense of confusion among many Juneau voters. City and election officials tallied 1,447 additional ballots during a public review Friday at the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Chambers. The certified official results will be announced Oct. 14, after the remaining mail-in ballots trickle in. Election officials noted that counting machines continually rejected “over-voted” ballots in which too many candidates were chosen in a particular race. These errors disqualified that race on those ballots, though the rest of the correctly completed votes on the erroneous ballots were counted.

Alaska: Translators scramble to meet election deadline | Juneau Empire

Translators are scrambling this week to meet a Friday deadline ordered by a federal judge to provide outreach and poll workers with election materials and voting information that have been translated into Yup’ik or Gwich’in. Gwich’in translators Allan Hayton and Marilyn Savage in Fairbanks are finding the work challenging, KUAC reported. “Some of it is very technical language, legal jargon,” Hayton said. But Hayton and Savage are up to the task, having translated other materials, including Shakespeare, according to Hayton. “Marilyn and I worked last year translating King Lear into Gwich’in, so we’re used to difficult challenges but we’re happy to do this.”

Alaska: Why Vote Counting in Alaska Takes a Long Time | Roll Call

An Alaska Senate race has the potential to once again remain undecided well after the election, and this time the wait could keep control of the Senate up in the air until at least mid-November. December and January runoffs are possible in two other states with Senate races, so it could be even longer before either party can claim a majority of seats in the chamber in the next Congress. Senate Republicans need a net gain of six seats to take control. But the reason for the holdup in Alaska is, like the state itself, unique. In the Last Frontier State, the regular delay in races being called is largely a product of two confluent circumstances: close contests and an increased emphasis by campaigns on absentee voting, a get-out-the-vote method pushed to help compensate for the state’s travel and voting complications. The need to encourage absentees is a reality in one of the most topographically challenging states for campaigns in the country. Prop planes are often required for candidates to reach the state’s vast rural areas and even for timely travel between cities close in proximity but separated by mountains or water. And state officials running the election face similar logistical hurdles: All ballots are eventually transported by air to Juneau, a capital only accessible by boat or plane.

Alaska: Plaintiff says they won’t appeal ballot lawsuit ruling | Juneau Empire

The plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the merged campaigns of two Alaska gubernatorial candidates will not appeal a judge’s ruling that an emergency order allowing the ticket was valid, he said Monday. Plaintiff Steve Strait said, however, that state lawmakers should enact a permanent regulation to address a legal “train wreck” — the label used by Superior Court Judge John Suddock in describing a gap in Alaska election statutes. Suddock sided with the state on Friday.

Alaska: Judge rules Walker-Mallott ticket can stand | Alaska Dispatch

An Alaska Superior Court judge Friday morning denied a complaint brought by a Republican Party official that could have unraveled the “unity” ticket of gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker and his running mate, Byron Mallott. Steve Strait, an Anchorage district chair of the Alaska Republican Party, said he will decide over the weekend whether to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. Judge John Suddock said the lieutenant governor and the Division of Elections acted appropriately when they issued an emergency regulation Sept. 2 allowing the merger of the “nonparty” ticket, though primary voters had previously chosen Mallott as the Democratic nominee for governor. In a lengthy explanation of his decision, Suddock said he was constrained by three decades of precedent, including a Supreme Court ruling, attorney general opinions, similar decisions by past lieutenant governors, and numerous Legislatures that had “OK’ed this kind of monkey business after the primary” by not creating a statute to address such situations.

Alaska: Judge sides with state in ballot lawsuit | Juneau Empire

A judge on Friday sided with the state of Alaska and ruled against a lawsuit that challenged the merged campaigns of two candidates in the governor’s race. Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock ruled that an emergency order issued by Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell that allowed the merger was valid. The state argued that invalidating the order would leave the November election in shambles and disenfranchise voters, saying more than 2,400 overseas ballots have already been mailed out. “The people of the state of Alaska expect an election,” Suddock said after opposing sides had presented their oral arguments. “They expect to have a choice.” The lawsuit was filed last week by Steve Strait, an Alaska Republican Party district chair. Strait maintained Treadwell erred in his Sept. 2 order, which permitted candidates affected by the merger to officially withdraw from their respective races.

Alaska: State, plaintiffs prepare ballot-lawsuit arguments | Associated Press

The Alaska gubernatorial election could be derailed and thousands of voters disenfranchised if a lawsuit challenging the merged campaigns of two candidates is successful, state lawyers argue in court documents ahead of oral arguments Friday. “This court should not lightly order a remedy that will interfere with an ongoing election and disenfranchise Alaska’s voters,” Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh, representing the defendants, wrote in documents filed in the lawsuit against Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and elections director Gail Fenumiai. The filing says more than 2,400 overseas ballots have already been mailed out. The lawsuit filed last week by an Alaska Republican Party district chair, Steve Strait, challenges an emergency ruling that allowed Democratic gubernatorial nominee Byron Mallott to join his campaign with now-independent candidate Bill Walker and run as Walker’s lieutenant governor.

Alaska: Judge orders state to add language help for voters in Alaska villages | Alaska Dispatch

A federal judge directed Alaska election officials on Monday to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act by expanding their language outreach to Yup’ik- and Gwich’in-speaking villagers for the November election U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason told state officials they must provide written translations of most of the important election materials they give to English-speaking voters, including candidate statements in the official election pamphlet mailed to every voter in Alaska. She also directed them to increase six-fold the number of hours that bilingual outreach workers are paid to help Yup’ik and Gwich’in speakers understand the ballot and their right to vote. She ordered state officials to provide material in Yup’ik dialects when Central Yup’ik would be misunderstood in the Dillingham and Wade Hampton census

Alaska: Judge rules in Alaska Native voting rights case | Associated Press

A federal judge on Monday ordered the state to take additional steps to provide voting materials to Alaska Native voters with limited English for the upcoming election. U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason ordered the state to distribute translated announcements to be read on radio that include information on early voting, races and initiatives on the November ballot. The state, among other things, must make available on its website translations of election material in Yup’ik dialects and provide to outreach workers translations of such things as candidate statements, initiative summaries and pro and con statements on the initiatives. The Division of Elections also is to provide translations to the plaintiffs in the case to get their input.

Alaska: Attorney’s Respond to State’s Proposed Translation Plan | Alaska Public Media

Attorneys have responded to the State of Alaska’s proposed plan to address a state Supreme Court order to improve translation of voting materials in Native languages before November 4th Elections. In a 30-page document, Attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund, representing Yup’ik and Gwich’in Alaska Native voters, asked for five main changes before election day. NARF Attorney Natalie Landreth says the most important request is that the state have bilingual help for Native language voters in every community where it’s needed. Voters at the Lower Kuskokwim School District choosing primary election ballots on Tuesday, August 19th, 2014. “You have to have a bilingual person in place in each place in each village in advance of the election and on election day, that’s number one. Number two: you have to have written translations in Yup’ik of the ballot measures, the pro and con statements, the neutral summaries and the complicated pre-election information like what early voting is, how to get registered,” said Landreth.

Alaska: State Presents Election Translation Plan | Alaska Public Media

The state of Alaska is proposing several changes in how they deliver voting information to Alaska Natives whose first language is Yup’ik or Gwich’in. The state is offering the changes after a federal judge issued a decision in a voting rights lawsuit last week. U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason ordered the state to better help voters who speak Yup’ik and Gwich’in understand their ballots. Elizabeth Bakalar is the lead attorney for the state on the case. She says that the state is focused on three areas: “That voters need better information ahead of the election that language assistance is available, that outreach workers need to be better prepared to provide language assistance voters especially prior to election day and to better address certain dialectical differences. So those are the three areas which the interim remedies we’re proposing are meant to target and certainly any long term remedies would probably target those areas as well.” Bakalar explains, the state is preparing different versions of ballot language to send to tribal councils and outreach workers to reflect different dialects. She says they’re looking for feedback from speakers.

Alaska: Native Alaskans secure a voting rights victory in court | The Washington Post

The state of Alaska says it will do a better job offering language assistance to its native population following a federal court ruling this week. The ruling marks the end of a legal campaign that began a year ago when the state was sued by four tribes and two native voters for failing to provide sufficient ballot language assistance. After a nine-day trial earlier this summer, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason on Wednesday issued her ruling, asking the state to submit a proposal by Friday for changes that could be implemented before the November election. “This case boils down to one issue,” Natalie Landreth, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, which filed the lawsuit with two national law firms, said in a statement following the ruling. “English speakers receive a 100-page Official Election Pamphlet before every election and Yup’ik speaking voters have been receiving three things: the date of the election, the time of the election, and a notice that language assistance will be available at the poll.  That’s it.  That is a very clear violation of the law, and it has to change, now.”

Alaska: Judge: Election officials broke voting rights law; must help Yup’ik, Gwich’in voters | Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

State elections officials broke a federal voting rights law by failing to provide sufficient election information in Alaska Native languages, a U.S. District Court judge ruled Wednesday, causing the state to scramble for improvements before the November election. Attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund filed a federal lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of four Alaska Native village councils and two Native men alleging the state violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act by failing to provide translated voting materials for voters who do not speak and read English. The villages — Venetie, Arctic Village, Togiak and Hooper Bay — as well as Manokotak resident Mike Toyukak and Alakanuk resident Fred Augustine, were denied their voting rights, because the state did not provide an election pamphlet translated to Gwich’in or Yup’ik, Gleason ruled.

Alaska: Native language speakers win lawsuit against state | Alaska Dispatch

A federal judge in Anchorage ruled Wednesday morning that the state elections division violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act by failing to provide ballot and candidate information in Native languages to Yup’ik and Gwich’in speakers in three rural regions of Alaska. In a big victory for Native rights advocates, U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason rejected the state’s assertions that it had done enough in Southwest Alaska and the Interior by providing bilingual poll workers and “outreach” personnel. Gleason said the state’s effort failed to provide “substantially similar” information in Native languages as it does in English. While the plaintiffs — two Yup’ik-speaking elders and four federally recognized village tribes — had sought to have all election materials made available in Native languages, Gleason focused on the official election pamphlet sent to all residents of Alaska in English. The state didn’t do enough to help voters with limited English proficiency gain access to the information in the pamphlet, she said.

Alaska: Democrat and independent challengers to Gov. Sean Parnell negotiate merging campaigns | Associated Press

The two challengers to Gov. Sean Parnell are discussing uniting their campaigns, representatives of the candidates said Monday. Democrat Byron Mallott and independent candidate Bill Walker were in their second day of discussions Monday about whether they would run as a bipartisan or non-partisan ticket, Mallott spokeswoman Laury Scandling said in an email to The Associated Press. A formal statement was expected by noon Tuesday, said Scandling, who added that she plans to leave the campaign at the same time. Any changes to the ballot have to be made by Tuesday.

Alaska: Yup’ik Voters Give Ballot Translation Mixed Reviews | Alaska Public Media

Alaska Native voters in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region of Western Alaska gave the Yup’ik language primary ballot translations mixed reviews. All eight of the Yup’ik voters that KYUK talked with said they needed help understanding what they were voting on. Elder Jacob Nelson is originally from the coastal village of Kwigilingok. He moved to Bethel in the 1970′s and he speaks mostly Yup’ik, and very little English. He says leading up to Alaska’s primary election, he heard some information on the radio in his language about an oil tax referendum. “I only ever heard about the ballot initiative on radio, not from anyone else.”

Alaska: Ballots fraught with issues for Yup’ik speakers | Al Jazeera

Ahead of tomorrow’s primary elections in Alaska, every voter in the state should have received a pamphlet that introduces the candidates, describes ballot issues and explains how to vote. The pamphlets are available in Spanish and Tagalog — but not Yup’ik, a language spoken by Alaska Natives, even though it is among the most commonly spoken languages in the state. At least 10,000 people speak Yup’ik, according to the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. It’s the second-most-spoken Native language in the U.S., after Navajo. Many speakers live in the community of Bethel or surrounding smaller rural villages in southwestern Alaska.

Alaska: Ballot Language Confusing for Some Voters | KTUU

Ballot Measure 1 takes up more than a page of Alaska’s primary ballot. It includes technical information about tax credits for North Slope producers, and explains how a barrel of Alaska oil is valued and taxed. Many voters, however, say they’re confused by what otherwise would be a simple yes-or-no vote on the measure, which seeks to repeal Senate Bill 21. “I’ve seen a lot of ‘No on 1’ and ‘Yes on 1’ signs, but it’s really confusing what it means,” said voter Jenny Lynes. In Ballot Measure 1’s case, voting “yes” at the polls actually means “no” to SB21, Gov. Sean Parnell’s reduction of oil taxes passed by the state Legislature and signed into law in 2013. A “no” vote actually means “yes” to keeping the law on the books. The legislation itself is also complex, setting a tax rate for oil produced in the state and the profits for oil companies and the state of Alaska.  The law went into effect in January of this year. It’s the only ballot question facing voters in the Aug. 19 primary.

Alaska: Ballot Power: The Revolution in How Alaska Natives Vote | ICTMN

A perfectly timed combination of negotiation and grassroots organizing has allowed numerous Native villages across Alaska to become absentee in-person voting locations for federal elections for the first time. That’s a sea change from just a few weeks ago, when voters in only about 30 Native villages had a way to cast a ballot ahead of Election Day, said Nicole Borromeo, general counsel of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN). Meanwhile, Alaska’s urban voters had 15 days to do so. The locations will be in place for the August primary. This transformation in voting access follows years of fruitless requests to the state for the election services by three groups: AFN, an organization of regional and village corporations, tribes and other entities; ANCSA Regional Association, a group of Native-corporation CEOs; and Get Out The Native Vote. “In late June, AFN and ANCSA sat down with the state and said, ‘we will sign up the locations,’” recalled Borromeo, who is Athabascan from McGrath Native Village. The state agreed, and the Native team began seeking groups and individuals to handle the election activities.