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.
Articles about voting issues in Alaska.
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.