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.
Yet there were other factors at play in 2016: The division, which operates under the supervision of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, had been under criticism after the primary because division staff had allowed some rural voters to vote two ballots — the Republican primary ballot and the “other” ballot. The double voting in Shungnak was first identified by Must Read Alaska.
The rural voting irregularities likely led to the narrow defeat of Rep. Ben Nageak of Barrow, replaced by Rep. Dean Westlake, the Democrats’ favored candidate. (Westlake was forced to resign in January of 2018, after allegations of harassment were made against him.)
The extent of failings in the 2016 Primary process were significant. Westlake won by just 8 votes, and at least 50 people in Shungnak were given both Republican and “other” ballots. Through a challenge by the Alaska Republican Party, a Superior Court judge reversed the election and gave Nageak the win, but the Supreme Court upheld the election of Westlake.