As if there weren't enough problems already with the April municipal election, city officials said Friday they discovered a cache of 141 "potentially" uncounted ballots.
In a joint prepared statement emailed to news outlets at 6:30 p.m. Friday, long after City Hall shut down for the weekend, Assembly Chair Ernie Hall and new Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones said the ballots were found in sealed bags on Wednesday.
In an interview Friday night, Hall said he didn't want to notify the media about the discovery Wednesday because there were still more sealed bags in the city's vault to inspect. That inspection was concluded Thursday.
"We wanted to make sure that we had everything done," Hall said. "I only wanted to do one release. I wanted to make sure there was nothing in any other bag, anyplace."
He and Jones further delayed notification till Friday evening because it took that much time to prepare the statement and an accompanying inventory check list, he said.
"Would I like to have just said, 'Well, let's just ignore it and nobody will ever know?' That was never even an option with this election," Hall said. "When I was informed about it, (and asked) what do you want to do, I said there's not but one thing to do, we're going to acknowledge that we've located them, we'll bring the Election Commission again together, we will count the ballots and add them to the totals. We're not going to conceal it. I'm trying to be as open with everything that we find in this."
The prepared statement said the 141 ballots were discovered "during an organizational process" begun by the clerk. Hall said the effort was part of trying to resolve what went wrong during the election and how to prevent a recurrence.
The statement said that sealed election bags were supposed to only contain ballots that were already run through an optical scanner and counted.
"However, three bags contained some potentially uncounted ballots, along with the scanned ballots," the statement said.
The ballots were sample ballots that were used when regular ballots ran out in Precincts 405 (Anchorage School District Education Center), 465 (University of Alaska Anchorage Diplomacy Center) and 855 (Anchorage Community YMCA). Hall said they probably weren't counted, but an auditing process will need to be completed to know for sure. Those precincts were not among the 15 were recounts were ordered, Hall said.
Hall noted the closest election was decided by several thousand votes, so 141 uncounted ballots would have no effect on any outcome. The city has 123 election precincts, he said.
In response to the find, the city's Election Commission will be asked to review the 141 ballots in public session at a date, time and location yet to be determined. The municipal attorney said the Anchorage Assembly will have to recertify the April election after the Election Commission acts, the statement said.
The April 3 election has proven to be a disaster. Officials failed to provide enough ballots at more than half the precincts, and then failed to realize how serious the problem had become. The deputy clerk who handled Election Day duties was fired and her boss, City Clerk Barbara Gruenstein, resigned, but the fallout hasn't stopped yet. In an independent investigation announced July 2, a retired Superior Court judge, Dan Hensley, said blame for the mess belonged to the City Clerk's office and the Anchorage Assembly.
The election featured a race for Anchorage mayor and a divisive gay rights measure.