Anchorage Assembly postpones certification of election

Kyle Hopkins

The ACLU asked for one last week. Then it was the NAACP. And if a young voter named Laura Herman doesn't get one, she says, oh, there will be trouble.

The Anchorage Assembly better launch an investigation into the city's trouble-plagued April 3 election, the 23-year-old told Assembly members Tuesday night, or she's going after their jobs.

"There's a bunch of you that I support on this Assembly, but I will actively be involved in revoking all of you because my voice is being taken away when you decide not to investigate," she said.

It's not that the Assembly isn't going to trigger an inquiry into the election, during which ballots temporarily ran dry at about one of every three precincts. Several Assembly members say they've made up their minds to do just that.

Just not yet.

"I have no doubt that that investigation is going to occur," said West Anchorage Assemblyman Ernie Hall, whose peers voted him the new Assembly chairman Tuesday.

But the Assembly at the meeting delayed certification of the election until at least April 24, and Hall said the inquiry ought to wait too. The postponement allows for the Election Commission to finish counting the remaining 13,434 votes and issue recommendations on just what an investigator ought to be looking for, he said.

Nearly every major race in the election was decided in a blowout, meaning the results are unlikely to change. Still, confirmation of the election is more than just a formality.

Until the Assembly signs off on certification, two new school board members can't take their seats and a raft of new voter-approved bonds is on hold.

"Conceivably, with most bond elections in the past, the district would have begun making commitments the day after the election," said Mike Abbott, assistant superintendent of support services for Anchorage School District.

This year, 57 percent of voters approved $59.1 million in school bonds. Among construction the bonds may pay for this summer are a roof replacement and a larger capital project, Abbott said.

But the process of hiring contractors or issuing contracts is temporarily on hold "because of the relative uncertainty" about the election certification, Abbott said.

The delay won't be a problem for the district, said school board president Gretchen Guess.

"We will make it work," she said. "At the end of the day, the Assembly needs to do what it thinks is right and feel no pressure from us in the decision."

Along with school bonds, voters also approved $27.5 million for road projects, $2.8 million for parks and $1.6 million for public transit and an ambulance.

The Election Commission on Tuesday completed the election canvass, which reveals how many eligible questioned, absentee-by-mail and early voting ballots remain to be counted.

The Commission rejected 609 ballots -- or five times as many as last year. Those include 187 cast by people who were not registered to vote, 159 cast by people who are registered outside of Anchorage and another 142 by would-be voters who registered too late.

The 2012 figures stand in comparison to the last mayoral election, in 2009, when just 15 ballots were rejected because the voter was registered outside of Anchorage. That year, 44 people were rejected for not registering to vote and four ballots were thrown out because of late registration, according to the canvass report.

The city received 5,756 questioned ballots this year, or nearly three times as many in 2009.

The Election Commission is expected to finish counting the remaining votes as early as Friday, city officials said.

Certification of the election could follow on the 24th, unless the Assembly calls for further delays or, a more unlikely scenario, pursues an election "re-do" as one voter demanded during public testimony Tuesday.

Holding a second election would invite all new problems, Midtown Assemblyman Dick Traini said in an interview. The city wouldn't be able to hold the vote until June, disenfranchising yet another group of voters.

"In the summertime, people are going on vacations. People are at fish camps," he said.

Traini said he favors an investigation that begins by talking to precinct workers about Election Day troubles and works its way up to the clerk's office, which oversees voting.

Outgoing Assembly chair Debbie Ossiander said she also supports an external investigation but questioned whether the inquiry could conclusively determine how many people were disenfranchised on Election Day.

"Not because it's not a laudable goal, but because it's very, very difficult to determine," she said. "How do you count someone who heard a news report that there were no ballots and then decided not to vote?"

The Assembly on April 10 rejected an initial proposal to hire an investigator. On Tuesday some voters said they're tired of waiting.

"The longer you delay, the more foolish everyone looks," said Colleen Murphy, an Anchorage doctor who complained of "glaring levels of incompetence" on display during the election.

An online petition for an investigation has generated 700 signatures, said sponsor Barbara Gazaway. An election precinct chairwoman in Muldoon, Gazaway said the voting machine at her precinct rejected some ballots.

"We tried putting ballots in every which way, and they were spit back," she said.

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