Alaska election officials say they're ready for voting

Becky BohrerAssociated Press

JUNEAU -- Alaska officials said they're ready for the upcoming elections even though at least one key change they'd hoped to make -- moving up the primary -- stalled in the Legislature.

Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell's office, along with the state Division of Elections and Department of Law, conducted a review of Alaska's voting procedures and laws after the disputed 2010 U.S. Senate race between Joe Miller and Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The review, released last year, made a series of recommendations to improve the process, though Treadwell has maintained that none of the proposed changes would have altered the outcome of the race.

The review, among other things, recommended changes both to state law and election procedures. It also called for a third-party review of such things as hand-count verification of election results and audits to ensure that people who shouldn't be voting aren't.

The only changes in law came in respect to the state's handling of write-in ballots, a major point of contention in the 2010 race in which Murkowski mounted a write-in campaign, the likes of which the state had never seen, to retain her seat after losing the GOP primary to Miller.

Miller argued that the state should have adhered to a strict reading of a law calling for write-in ballots to have the oval filled in and written the last name of the candidate or the name as it appears on a declaration of candidacy. The state pointed to case law in allowing for misspellings and used discretion to determine voter intent.

Three courts refused to overturn election results favoring Murkowski, though a federal judge said the state law concerning write-in ballots was poorly written. The 2011 law change essentially codifies the state's approach in the 2010 race.

The report recommended other changes in the law, including moving up the primary by two weeks in even-numbered years to ensure that the state has sufficient time in the event of a contested primary to comply with a requirement that ballots are sent to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before a general election.

Treadwell said he expects that requirement to be met this year, noting that there's just one statewide race on the ballot -- U.S. House -- and that he sees the odds for any kind of glitch that would delay ballots getting out in time as "very, very low." He said he felt there was a sense among some legislative committees that they would prefer to take up the issue in a non-election year.

A bill that included an earlier primary date and was also intended to address other proposed changes stalled in the Legislature. An aide to Rep. Bill Thomas, the bill's sponsor, said Thomas' main concern was ensuring that military personnel and families were taken care of and that he felt those issues were being addressed in regulations set to take effect Friday.

Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said the proposed regulations would expand the definition of electronic transmission of ballots beyond faxing. The state put out a request for proposals for an online ballot delivery services, and if all goes well it is possible such a system could be in place for the August primary, she said.

Fenumiai also said officials have addressed or are in the process of addressing the changes in election procedure outlined in the report. Those recommendations included researching systems that provide "real-time" or electronic updates of which voters have voted, upgrading voter registration and database systems and ensuring ineligible felons do not vote.

Treadwell said officials plan to brief legislators next year on their equipment needs to replace aging systems.

Fenumiai said that while elections officials already match corrections department data against voter registration lists to guard against having ineligible felons voting, she said a run of data will be done just before precinct registers are created, so "the list is as accurate as it can possibly be, based on information we receive from corrections."

Miller had raised the specter that felon sex offenders may have been wrongfully allowed to cast ballots. During the election fight, Fenumiai said "absolutely not," when asked if she had concerns that felons were wrongfully allowed to vote.

Treadwell and Fenumiai said the third-party review is being conducted by the University of Alaska. It is still pending.

Associated Press