The Anchorage Election Commission said Wednesday it was recommending against hiring an outside investigator to look into the city's chaotic April 3 election even as it found that more precincts had run out of ballots than previously announced.
More than half of city polling places ran out of ballots at some point during the election, the commission said. The figures stand in contrast to earlier estimates from the City Clerk's office that ballots temporarily ran dry in only one of every three precincts.
The eight-member panel unveiled the findings in a report approved Wednesday at City Hall.
Despite the widespread shortages, the commission recommended against hiring an outside investigator to probe exactly what went wrong. The panel said it learned of only 33 people who said they were unable to vote on Election Day, too few to change the outcome of any race.
"All indications are that ballot shortages for (certain ballot types) were the result of unintended error on the part of the Clerk's Office," the report concludes. "While this created chaos during the final hours of the mayoral election, the problem did not meet the standards of malconduct, fraud or reckless indifference on the part of anyone involved."
More than 71,000 people voted in the election, re-hiring incumbent Mayor Dan Sullivan and rejecting a contentious gay rights initiative.
The commission has asked the Assembly to adopt its report and certify the election.
Many observers, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska and the city clerk who oversees the voting process, Barbara Gruenstein, have urged the Assembly to hire an investigator to review the disorderly election.
Midtown Assemblywoman Elvi Gray-Jackson reviewed the commission's findings and said she's concerned the conclusions will prompt Assembly members to back away from launching a third-party investigation. Too many questions remain unanswered, said West Anchorage Assembly member Harriet Drummond.
"There are a number of issues that have not been addressed, as far as I'm concerned," she said. "The busted seals on the AccuVote machines. There have been many reports of those. I think there needs to be a hand-count of some precincts at the very least."
Assembly chairman Ernie Hall said Thursday that he indeed planned to hire a special investigator, possibly a retired judge.
The commission, an advisory panel appointed by the mayor and confirmed by Assembly members, interviewed the city clerk and her staff, along with poll workers and voters, the report says.
In addition to 33 people who said they were unable to vote on Election Day, roughly 150 people reported various problems to the city, including long lines at polling places, the use of sample ballots or photocopied ballots as makeshift substitutes and "balky" and "unreliable" voting machines, according to the report.
Among the commission's findings:
• 65 precincts were out of all ballots for some period of time.
• Precinct workers were given inconsistent guidance and information regarding the use of sample and photo-copied ballots.
• Voters' inexperience using sample ballots to cast their votes caused "consternation" and delays at the ballot box.
The commission recommended better poll worker training and hiring an additional city employee to work specifically on coordinating elections and hiring workers. The city has not had an employee dedicated primarily to those tasks since the departure of former Elections Coordinator Guadalupe Marroquin in 2009, Drummond said.
Deputy city clerk Jacqueline Duke, an election planner, declined to comment on the report, saying she'd been told not to talk to reporters.
The city printed enough ballots to meet Election Day demand, the commission found, but miscalculated the number of certain ballot types needed. Not enough ballots made it to polling places, the report said.
When resulting problems arose, poll workers were given inconsistent instructions and were not trained to deal with ballot shortages, the report found.
The commission found that voting machines used in the election, on loan from the state, are "nearing the end of their 10-year life span" but experienced "minimal" mechanical problems.
The ACLU of Alaska has urged city leaders to begin a third-party investigation -- separate from the Election Commission review -- immediately. In a letter to the Assembly chairman Tuesday, the group outlined questions an investigator ought to look into.
Any such inquiry should look into the cause of rampant ballot shortages, the procedures the City Clerk's office used to determine the number of ballots sent to each precinct, reports of broken security seals on optical scanners and potential cases of "intentional voter misconduct," the letter says.
By KYLE HOPKINS
Anchorage Daily News