Voters, poll workers detail spring election problems

Casey Grove
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News

From long waits due to ballot shortages to broken seals on voting machines, frustrated voters and poll workers Saturday detailed the problems they witnessed in the snarled spring election.

The Loussac library meeting was the first of two interview sessions by the city Election Commission to hear voter complaints. City leaders have pledged to launch an investigation of the election, when about one in three precincts temporarily ran out of ballots.

Certification of the April 3 election was postponed so the election commission can issue recommendations on what an investigator should look at. The ballot included a failed initiative to gain legal protections for gay and transgender residents and a mayoral showdown that ended in re-election of Dan Sullivan.

The elections officials held interviews for several hours Saturday, with a second session planned for 4 p.m. Monday in room 830 at City Hall, the city clerk said.

By 2 p.m. Saturday, about 15 people had given statements.

Election commissioner Peggy Baumeister said a woman told her it took election workers four hours to get a ballot. The woman said she watched a pregnant woman leave without voting because she was tired from standing and waiting, Baumeister said.

A man told Baumeister his voting experience was smooth but he wanted an independent investigation of the election because of other voters' problems he'd heard about.

Baumeister talked to just those two people in the meeting's first four hours. Another commissioner, Sue Kinney, spoke to only one, she said. "The person I talked to was mainly venting."

"We've had a light turnout," Kinney said. "We expected more people."

Among those who did show up was Wendy Isbell, an election worker who also testified at Tuesday's Assembly meeting. Isbell says she saw voting machines with broken seals, plastic pieces designed to prevent someone from tampering with a memory card that counts votes.

"I don't see how they broke," Isbell said. "They're impossible to break. They were evenly cut."

When another worker asked about the broken seals, Isbell says Deputy Municipal Clerk Jacqueline Duke told the worker, "If they're broken, don't worry about it."

After five years working elections, Isbell said she's seen how it's possible to tamper with a voting machine.

"It's so easy for a dishonest person to take advantage," she said.

Gay rights activist and Bent Alaska blogger Melissa Green said the electioneers simply don't know whether someone tampered with the machines. That's the point of the seals, she said.

"This election has many questions," Green said, "but the ballot boxes are the biggest."

Duke, also at the meeting, said she saw no voting inaccuracies during testing of the machines.

"There are a lot of tests done prior to the election to prevent hacking, which is what these people are talking about," Duke said.

Any evidence of fraud could easily be rooted out with a recount, Duke said. She also said Isbell's retelling of her instruction about the broken voting machine seals was incomplete.

"What I said was, 'If you open up on election morning, and you see it's clearly broken from transport, don't worry, I have extras," Duke said.

The plastic is "flimsy," she said, and can break easily. That's not evidence of vote fraud, she said.

"I think perhaps people are unhappy with the (election) results, and they'll find anything they can," Duke said.

Assembly chairman Ernie Hall has pledged to launch an investigation into the election after a report from the Election Commission. Critics at Tuesday's Assembly meeting said the probe should already be under way and that time is wasting.

Reach Casey Grove at or 257-4589.

Anchorage Daily News