Poll mistake complicates Midtown vote

Kyle Hopkins,Rosemary Shinohara
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News Anchorage mayor Dan Sullivan, and Assembly member Sheila Selkregg congratulate assembly candidate Ernie Hall and talk about working together at Election Central in the Egan Center for the Municipal elections on Tuesday April 6, 2010. 100406

The tight Midtown Assembly race took an odd twist Wednesday when the city clerk said she'll have to throw out as many as 175 votes in the race between former Assemblyman Dick Traini and conservative Andy Clary because of a mix-up at a downtown precinct.

The problem? Downtown voters casting ballots on Election Day at the Anchorage Senior Center were mistakenly given Midtown ballots featuring the Traini-Clary contest, said City Clerk Barbara Gruenstein.

Those votes will be subtracted from the Midtown tally at 1:30 p.m. today at City Hall, Gruenstein said.

Traini led Clary by 248 votes at the end of election night. But Clary drew within 183 votes on Wednesday as election officials counted a batch of absentee ballots.

The new count shows Traini with 2,947 votes and Clary with 2,764. That edge could shrink again by this afternoon.

There was no downtown Assembly race this year, so downtown voters should only have been casting ballots for School Board members and bonds. Instead, the Precinct 535 workers gave 175 Midtown ballots to downtown voters at the senior center.

Gruenstein said she didn't know the name of the chairperson responsible for the precinct.

"We bring in all these people and we try to train them, and I presume it was a mistake," she said.

The precinct, known as the Merrill Field precinct, includes a section of Midtown that's so small no one actually lives there, Gruenstein said. Therefore, all voters at the precinct should have received downtown ballots, she said.

Asked if similar errors have been made in the past, Gruenstein said this "is the first time we know about it."

Not everyone who received one of the erroneous ballots necessarily cast a vote in the Midtown race, though downtown voters tend to favor liberal candidates over conservatives.

That could help Clary, who campaigned as a more conservative alternative to Traini, who positions himself as a moderate.

Some voters called the city to say they'd been given the wrong ballot, and an election worker told the deputy city clerk about the ballot problem Wednesday, Gruenstein said. An unknown number of absentee ballots that are still out and 1,480 questioned ballots citywide will be counted April 16, Gruenstein said.

In four other Assembly races, incumbents Debbie Ossiander of Eagle River-Chugiak and Jennifer Johnston of South Anchorage, and newcomers Paul Honeman of East Anchorage and Ernie Hall of West Anchorage all scored definitive wins.

Mayor Dan Sullivan, who supported Hall, Clary and Adam Trombley -- the conservative opponent of Honeman -- said he thinks the new members won't shift the Assembly one way or the other. "It's still going to be a fairly even body," he said Wednesday.

The existing Assembly sometimes votes 6-5, with liberal-leaning members on the dominant side.

The three new members who will take office on April 20 all call themselves nonpartisan.

"If Traini prevails, he's a known commodity -- a straight shooter," said Sullivan. "Ernie Hall is really a pragmatist. ... Paul Honeman served the city for 31 years, and has that perspective." Honeman is a retired police officer.

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