Hands-off management, cost cutting and inexperienced staff — not politics or intentional efforts to influence outcome — were primarily responsible for Anchorage’s embarrassing April municipal election. That’s according to a nine-page report by a former Alaska Superior Court judge hired by Anchorage Assembly Chairman Ernie Hall to investigate what led to ballot shortages at nearly half the city’s polling places, with some residents turned away, unable to cast a vote. The April election, which included votes for mayor and a contentious initiative to add sexual orientation to the city’s equal-rights protections, turned out to be one with higher turnout than expected or planned for by the Municipal Clerk’s office. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan handily won re-election in the vote. Sullivan took his second oath of of office Monday via Skype from Hawaii, where he was vacationing with his family, according to a statement from his office. Proposition 5, which would have made it illegal to discriminate against Anchorage residents because of sexual preference or gender identity, failed.
Retired judge Dan Hensley concluded that then-Deputy Municipal Clerk Jacqueline Duke, the city employee responsible for distributing ballots to poll places, based her decision on experience in the only two elections she’d worked. Those elections, in 2009 2010 and 2011, had low voter turnout. She didn’t seek more ballots, despite higher-than-normal absentee voting leading up to April 3, according to Hensley’s report.
But that was only the start of problems. Hensley also noted that election workers weren’t trained to respond to ballot shortages. Municipal Clerk Barbara Gruenstein exercised a “hands off management strategy,” delegating important city business like election oversight to her deputy clerk, “without providing much supervision and without having a working knowledge” of what exactly to do in the event the election went awry, which by all signs appeared to be the case as early as lunchtime on April 3, according to the report. Gruenstein resigned in the wake of the disastrous election and the city is looking for a new municipal clerk.