Our view: Election questions

Answers unlikely to change results, but still essential

April 4, 2012 

Some Anchorage polling places ran out of ballots on Tuesday. It's not clear how many. Some Anchorage voters apparently did not get a chance to vote. Again, it's not clear how many. Given the margins on Prop 5, the mayor's race, school board races and other ballot propositions, it's unlikely those Election Day disruptions were great enough to change the ultimate outcome. Even with an estimated 7,000 early, absentee and questioned ballots to count, Tuesday night's results should stand.

But we still need to know why there were shortages of ballots at the polling places, how it happened, how many voters didn't get the chance to cast their ballots and how to prevent this from happening again.

The reason is simple. Elections have to be straight, honest and well-run. For a representative democracy to work, we must be able to trust that the process is fair and the count is the truth. Every qualified voter who shows up should be able to vote.

Election workers -- from the municipal clerk and staff to the hundreds of citizens who work the polling places on Election Day -- strive to run elections that way. Things can and do go wrong, from jammed Accuvote machines to confusion about primary rules. But generally troubleshooters are swift to help and clarify, confusion is resolved and people get to cast their votes as they want. Our system works.

The intensity of the campaigns for and against Proposition 5, to extend anti-discrimination protection to gay and transgendered residents, has become an intensity of reaction to Tuesday's problems, including talk of a tainted election.

Jim Minnery of the Alaska Family Council, a fierce foe of Prop 5, sent an email to several thousand recipients that told people they could register and vote on the same day. That was wrong. Voters must register no later than 30 days before an election. Unregistered voters can register at the polling place and even vote a questioned ballot, but by law that vote can't count.

Minnery said he checked with the municipal clerk's office before sending out the email. The lesson for Minnery and any other partisan here is that you shouldn't give chapter and verse on election law unless you're sure -- sure -- you know the law.

But tainted election? That's a stretch, based on what we know so far.

We can all agree that no qualified voter should be disenfranchised. Given a highly charged issue like Prop 5, polling places should be overstocked with ballots, not running out at dinnertime.

Let's cool the rants and let the city's investigation and an inquiry by the American Civil Liberties Union take their courses.

BOTTOM LINE: City must figure out why ballots ran short on Election Day.

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