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.
Articles about voting issues in Alaska.
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.
Hackers reportedly breached election systems in a third state, in addition to the already disclosed incidents involving Arizona and Illinois, during the 2016 campaign cycle. On Election Day 2016, a hacker successfully penetrated a server hosting Alaska’s main election website, the Anchorage Daily News reported on Monday night, citing documents obtained through a public records request. The breach is not connected to the previously reported hacking attempt made by Russia-linked hackers to access Alaska’s primary voter registration database. Alaska was one of 21 states that were previously informed by the Department of Homeland Security of similar Russian probing activity on their election systems. Security experts told ADN that, although the newly reported incident was a successful intrusion, the Alaska Division of Elections’ security measures appear to have prevented the attackers from changing content on the server.
A hacker gained unauthorized access in 2016 to the server that hosts Alaska’s public elections website, according to documents released by Gov. Bill Walker’s administration. The documents, obtained by the Anchorage Daily News through a public records request, outline an incident that drew the attention of federal law enforcement but had not been publicly revealed by Alaska election officials. The documents show that Alaska’s elections, like other states’ around the country, face threats from hackers seeking to undermine American democratic institutions. But technology experts both inside and outside state government said that no damage was done — and that the attack actually highlights the resilience of Alaska’s multi-layered cyber-defenses.
Alaska is looking into conducting more of its elections by mail, though it may not completely convert right away. Interest at the state and local government levels increased after the Municipality of Anchorage saw a massive jump in its voter turnout during its April 3 election, which was conducted entirely by mail. However, the cost also reportedly increased, in part due to the printing and mailing of ballots. The Alaska Division of Elections and the Election Policy Work Group plan to meet May 8 and 9 in Anchorage to discuss four possible new vendors for the state’s ballot systems, all of which would involve a hybrid vote-by-mail system, according to a press release issued Thursday.