Our view: Right call on election

Assembly decision to certify -- with reservation -- makes sense

May 5, 2012 

No question the 2012 municipal election was a mess.

But the Anchorage Assembly did the right thing Thursday in voting 8-3 to certify the election, pending the outcome of a hand count of 15 precincts sought by a group of voters.

There are two issues here.

• One is whether the results are valid. Barring evidence of ballot box stuffing or hacking into the election system and changing thousands of votes, this election will stand. The margins are wide enough to be persuasive that the results reflect the will of the majority, even with the shortage of ballots and confusion during the last few hours at half the precincts.

What we know so far indicates that even if this election had gone without a hitch, the outcomes would be the same. Rumors of dark deeds and election fraud are no more than that and don't amount to enough reason to keep certification on hold. If the hand count of 15 precincts next week turns up major discrepancies, then we have a different story.

• The second issue is how this election was run. In the final hours election managers botched it to a fare-thee-well for dozens of precincts, and that fact is what has fueled suspicion of fraud, calls for a do-over and over-the-top expressions of lost faith.

Incompetence is far more likely than conspiracy, but the incompetence in this one was stunning.

How do you run out of ballots in so many precincts, and how do you fail to respond to so many of them?

How did our election managers fail to meet their primary obligation of the day -- making sure registered voters got to vote?

Those questions are still out there. That's why Assembly Chairman Ernie Hall should follow through on his stated intention to hire an independent investigator. The Election Commission's recommendation against an independent investigator should carry no water. Citizens need to know exactly how this happened, why and who needs to be held accountable.

The investigator needs to have the authority to question anyone involved and look into any substantive issue raised.

The bungling of April doesn't portend the end of the Republic. But it's serious, and needs a serious, independent look.

Further, the municipal clerk's office and the Assembly need to do whatever it takes to make sure this does not happen again. Clerk Barbara Gruenstein said Friday that "everything's on the table," from procedural changes to revisions of the city's election code. Gruenstein also favors an independent investigator.

Most of the fixes are easy. Make sure there's a ballot surplus at every precinct for every election. Restore hand counts of selected precincts to verify voting machine accuracy. Make sure voting machines are tested and running true. Enhance poll workers' training with troubleshooting drills. Provide enough troubleshooters to cover the city, and cover it with thorough knowledge of election rules and machinery. Pre-empt trouble so that those well-versed troubleshooters won't have much to do but cruise their assigned polling places and report all's well.

If excess ballots and better training cost more money, so be it. That's the price we pay for representative democracy -- and the right of every registered voter who shows up to cast a ballot.

BOTTOM LINE: Assembly makes common-sense call on a botched election, but there's still work to do.

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