The Anchorage Assembly voted Tuesday to pay a retired judge up to $35,000 to conduct a monthlong investigation into the sloppy April 3 city election.
Assembly Chairman Ernie Hall says he's tapped former Superior Court Judge Daniel Hensley to conduct the review, which has been requested by the ACLU of Anchorage, the city clerk who oversees elections and scores of angry voters.
A recent Election Commission review found that ballots ran dry at 65 of 121 precincts on Election Day.
The inquiry is expected to begin next week and be completed by mid-June, Hall said. Among the questions Hensley is tasked with answering, according to an Assembly memo:
• What happened at polling stations where ballots ran short and how should election protocols be clarified and expanded?
• What was happening at the Clerk's office before and during the shortages, particularly in regard to ballot distribution and election worker training.
• How can city leaders prevent repeat shortages and Election Day boondoggles in the future?
In the letter to the investigator, Hall summarized the election woes identified so far, including poll workers reporting delays in the arrival of substitute ballots, troubles with general election supervision and "election misinformation posted on non-municipal media resources."
That last one is likely a reference to an email and Facebook posting by Alaska Family Council president Jim Minnery, which incorrectly told people they could register to vote and vote on the same day. Hall said the investigation may uncover the effect of those errant messages, but so far the number of people who actually tried to both register and vote April 3 is low.
Hensley is not expected, however, to investigate the technical performance of voting machines used in the election, Hall wrote. "That issue may be pursued by the Assembly's Ethics and Election Committee with the State of Alaska," he told the investigator.
Asked if the former judge is expected to estimate the number of people who tried and failed to vote on Election Day, Hall said Hensley "is going to begin to come up with some kind of idea" of how many people were disenfranchised as he interviews election workers and others.
A hand-count of votes from 15 precincts, beginning Wednesday morning, should reveal whether the machines were accurately tabulating votes, Hall said.
The Election Commission found that the city printed enough ballots to meet demand on Election Day, but many of the ballots remained at City Hall as supplies ran short at various precincts. Why weren't more ballots sent to polling places?
"That's one of the questions we expect the investigator to provide us the answer to," Hall said.