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City officials complete messy Anchorage election canvass

Eric Christopher Adams,Alex DeMarban
iStock illustration

Update Tuesday 4:45 p.m. (04/17): City officials canvassing Anchorage's election have completed their work, according to a press release Tuesday afternoon from the Municipal Clerk's office.

The total absentee and questioned "envelopes" that will be counted for this year's municipal election came to 13,434, according to the clerk, easily enough to change several outcomes, though not the mayoral contest.

Of the votes that are yet to be counted, 5,748 were absentee votes; 5,262 were questioned votes -- which includes voters who jumped precincts or were forced to vote outside their home precinct due to widespread ballot shortages. There were 2,424 mail-in ballots. 

Counting is proceeding, but there's no estimate yet when it will be done. Typically, the Anchorage Assembly certifies the election on the second Tuesday after the election.

--ECA

Update Tuesday 8:45 p.m. (04/10): Mad dashes between polling places in search of ballots, a voting machine that didn't work and a frustrated voter who threw up her hands and went home highlight three real-life accounts of the chaotic April 3 election, according to affidavits collected by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The stories are just an initial sample of what went wrong on April 3, said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of ACLU Alaska. The group is working on confirming another 160 more complaints regarding disenfranchisement and systemic difficulties at the polls, Mittman said in an April 10 letter to the Anchorage Assembly. 

One of the disenfranchised was Rhonda Matthews, who works in the Federal Aviation Administration's traffic and quality control office. She tried voting at Klatt Elementary School a little after 7 p.m., according to her affidavit. But there were no ballots.

Go to other polling places, including one at the Alaska Club on O'Malley, she was told. When she got there, polling employees said she couldn’t vote at that site -- without saying why. Go to the airport, they told her. She had 15 minutes before polls closed, and gave up when she realized she wouldn't make it to the airport in time.

"I decided to go home from the Alaska Club and was not able to vote." 

At East Anchorage United Methodist Church, poll Chair Collin Smith made four calls for additional ballots as his supply shrank. When the site ran out of ballots a little before 6:30 p.m., he was told to send voters to the University of Alaska Anchorage.

On top of that, the ballot machine was stubborn, accepting some ballots, rejecting others.

"When it would not accept the ballot upside down, right side up, backwards or forwards, I shook it until the jam was cleared, and it accepted the ballot. This particular problem occurred more frequently than in prior elections and was very frustrating to the voters who were affected," Smith said, adding that hacked-off voters yelled at him for running out of ballots.

Angela Blue, a teacher, was told by poll workers a bit after 7 p.m. that the Chester Valley polling place was out of ballots. At the next stop, Creekside, she was told that polling place ran out of ballots. But she was given a sample ballot. She voted, and put it into a cardboard box because there was no place else to put it.

--Alex DeMarban 

Update Tuesday 4:30 p.m. (04/10): Specific examples of voter disenfranchisement in Anchorage's election began pouring in Tuesday from the ACLU of Alaska. Executive Director Jeff Mittman drafted a second letter to the Anchorage Assembly with notarized affidavits from voters testifying on specific instances of disenfranchisement.

In the letter, Mittman cited at least 140 instances (and growing) of Anchorage citizens contacting the ACLU to report being denied the right to vote. He also contested Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler's theory that "rush hour" votes could be proportionately allocated based on how others had voted earlier in the day. Read much more on this theory here.

The goal: to convince Chair Debbie Ossiander that it's in the city's best interest to appoint a special, independent counsel to review the election results.

Stay tuned. We'll have updates tonight after the Assembly meeting. 

Update Monday 5 p.m. (04/09): On Monday, April 9, email blasts from the Municipal Attorney's Office and Clerk's Office discussed ballot shortages and the legal precedent being used to investigate Anchorage's election disenfranchisement. Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler offered a memorandum explaining a similarly chaotic election, in October 1989, which resulted in proportional allocation of votes. Read more about what that means and the initial response from ACLU of Alaska.

Update Friday 5:05 p.m.: The Municipal Clerk's office has released a final tally for questioned ballots across all Anchorage precincts. With all precincts reporting, 6,095 questioned ballots have been discovered. By comparison, during the last municipal election there were only 1,060 questioned ballots. About 55,000 ballots were counted after Tuesday's election.

There also was an updated count offered by the municipality regarding those "unscanned ballots" -- ones that weren't electronically tabulated by Accuvote machines. The preliminary total: 1,433 unscanned ballots. Those included voters who showed up, signed in, but weren't electronically counted on election day. Those who used sample ballots or other non-official ballots (mayor challenger Paul Honeman alleged some voters had to poll on napkins).

No word on the napkin count. Or hanging napkins.

Update Thursday 7:30 p.m.: The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska has called for a special counsel to review Anchorage's municipal election in order to remove "even the appearance of a conflict of interest," according to executive director Jeff Mittman.

In a press release, Mittman said the ACLU had received "credible evidence" over the last two days of voter disenfranchisement "and some potential errors by the Clerk's Office in the conduct of the election."

The ACLU recommended "an impartial review of the election" by a retired judge, a former member of the Attorney General's office, or some other unbiased juror.

Currently, review of the election is being conducted by the Municipal Attorney's Office. However, the ACLU contends that's neither fair nor legal.

"The Municipal Attorney's office is engaged in investigating the April 2012 election. The Municipal Attorney's office is not entrusted with that authority; rather, the authority to conduct such investigations lies with the Election Commission and the Assembly," the letter said. "Moreover, the Municipal Attorney is employed at the pleasure of one of the participants in the election, which represents the kind of conflict of interest that would call into question the legitimacy of any such investigation."

Here's a link to the ACLU letter (PDF) sent to Anchorage Assembly Chair Debbie Ossiander, Mayor Dan Sullivan, Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler, Assembly Counsel Julia Tucker, Municipal Clerk Barbara Gruenstein and to all members of the Anchorage Assembly.

Update Thursday 5 p.m.: The Municipal Clerk's Office said 3,001 questioned ballots from Tuesday's Anchorage election have been documented by city officials. And that's in only about half of the municipality's precincts, with the others expected to be tallied in the coming days. 

By way of comparison, only 1,060 questioned ballots were cast in all precincts in the last municipal election.

Here's a breakdown of the questioned ballots thus far reviewed:

  • 2,193 were cast before the "ballot shortage issue" arose
  • 808 were cast after the "ballot shortage issue" arose

In addition, there were 797 "unscanned ballots," according to the clerk's office, those in which a voter signed-in at the precinct but their vote was not counted or scanned by the Accuvote electronic vote-counting machines.

Collectively, that's 3,798 ballots to be assessed that have not yet been counted in the election results. And that's from about half of all precincts (59 of 121). These numbers do not include absentee, mail-in absentee, or faxed ballots.

Another news nugget from the press release

With this Advisory, the Clerk's Office also announces a way for people who attempted to vote, but were unable to because of a shortage of ballots, to contact the Clerk's Office. Please email the Clerk's Office at election2012@muni.org. When doing so, please include your full name and the number, name or location of the precinct(s) involved. If you are willing to be contacted by phone, please also include your phone number. The Clerk's Office will collect and catalogue the information so that the Municipality can take this information into consideration.

Update Wednesday 7:10 p.m.: Based on most recent numbers from the Municipal Clerk's office, things are looking really bad for One Anchorage and the broad coalition of Anchorage supporters of the equal rights initiative, Proposition 5, and really good for its opponents, Protect Your Rights - No on 5.

Keep in mind that several questions about access to ballots on election-night, and the signifigance of those issues to the election's fairness and accuracy, have yet to be answered. Still, it appears there is a burdensome gap for Prop 5 to close, and a comeback would be remarkable. 

Clerk Barbara Gruenstein has offered Alaska Dispatch a tally of pre-election day absentee, write-in and faxed ballots yet to be counted. At least 8,723 such ballots wait to be counted, based on our math (disclosure: we're writers, not math wizards):

  • 4,489 absentee ballots cast before election day
  • 3,036 mailed ballots mailed out before election day
  • 98 faxed ballots received before election day
  • 1,100 in-person absentee ballots cast election day
  • Still unknown: the number of questioned ballots -- ballots not counted in the accuvote machines -- cast on election day

The gap Prop 5 would need to overcome in order to still pass looks to be 8,997 votes, based on the most recent numbers available from the Municipality of Anchorage, which indicate 97.5 percent of precincts tallied.

In other words, you'd need a near-complete reversal of the election day voting trend plus 100 percent of absentee, in-person absentee, mailed and faxed-in ballots in favor of Prop. 5, plus at least 275 votes from election day disqualified in order for the initiative to even possibly emerge victorious.

That's not to say it isn't possible. And Gruenstein will not speculate on how many ballots, total, are yet to be counted. We're only going on what we know.

What else we know: based on these numbers, would-be mayor Paul Honeman has little to zero chance of winning City Hall.

--ECA

Update Wednesday 2:20 p.m.: The ACLU of Alaska will review the Anchorage election, according to a press release from the group's executive director, Jeff Mittman.

The ACLU acknowledged hearing many concerns and complaints about the electoral process in Tuesday's election. In response, the ACLU set up a voter hotline to gather information about the allegations of inconsistencies being reported to the press by voters and the various campaigns, Mittman told Alaska Dispatch on Wednesday.

"To the extent that anyone's rights may not have been appropriately recognized, ACLU takes that seriously. The ACLU has a historic role in protecting rights of minorities," Mittman said.

Mittman is also involved in the One Anchorage campaign that supported passage of Proposition 5. When asked whether he had a conflict of interest, he reiterated that the ACLU's "fundamental mission" is to protect the voter franchise.

"Let's say there was evidence that No on 5 voters had their votes not recorded or not respected. That would be of concern with the ACLU. Not because we necessarily agree with their position but because every voter has a right to have their vote counted," Mittman said.

The ACLU voter hotline number is 907-263-2015. 

-- Eric Christopher Adams

Update Wednesday 1:42 p.m.: The campaign of mayoral challenger Paul Honeman says that voters who turned up at precincts lacking ballots were asked to vote on napkins and sample ballots. Voters contacted Alaska Dispatch on Tuesday night to confirm they'd been asked to vote on sample ballots but we've yet to hear about napkin balloting from any voter.

The Honeman campaign also sent an email blast soliciting donations from supporters to "take the battle forward."

Meanwhile the municipal clerk's office reports that 35 different types of ballots were used Tuesday night. The only two precincts that the city confirms did not run out of ballots were two universal polling places, at the University of Alaska Anchorage and Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Read the Muni Clerk letter here [PDF]. How many precincts did run out of ballots? The Muni clerk doesn't disclose that information in its letter.

Looks like the municipal attorney's office has gotten involved, too, in response to allegations of potential voter disenfranchisement. 

-- Eric Christopher Adams

Update Wednesday 12:40 p.m.: Press releases and press conferences are being held Wednesday around town, mostly by campaigns that aren't ready to concede election results due to the irregularities voters reported Tuesday night when trying to participate in the democratic process. The Municipality of Anchorage Clerk's office apologized Tuesday night to voters for being caught unprepared for an election that bore many signs of a nail-biter.

On Wednesday, the clerk's office informed Anchorage reporters and media outlets that they would not be responding to all press inquiries; rather, press releases would have to suffice. That may not go over well for voters who have many questions about what happened at the polls -- and why. Some voters were allegedly turned away without being able to vote. Some precincts ran out of ballots when registered voter turnout was apparently less than 30 percent.

Here's a press release from the One Anchorage campaign. The vote-counting and election-based information released by the Yes on 5 supporters in this press release is accurate. 

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- After a year-long effort that engaged a diverse spectrum of Alaskans from business, religious communities, elected officials, and thousands of individuals from every walk of life, Yes on 5 is disappointed at the interim election results, and has released the following statement:  

“Since the beginning of One Anchorage, we have been on the right side of history,” said spokesperson Trevor Storrs. “While the vote totals released to date indicate that Prop 5 did not receive sufficient votes to become law, we know our long-term journey towards full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Alaskans will one day – and soon – become a reality.  We see a growing number of Alaskans, who, like us, believe everyone in Anchorage should be treated the same no matter who you are.  It won’t be long before our gay friends and neighbors have the exact same legal protections as all others in our community.”  

“We await final results from the Municipal Clerk,” continued Storrs.  “We understand that there are thousands of ballots that have not yet even been counted, and additionally that Anchorage voters have expressed concerns with the conduct of the election.  We fully expect that the Clerk’s Office will continue to share information with the public as it becomes available, and our campaign will continue to monitor the process until every vote has been counted and all concerns have been addressed.  

Storrs stated, “Yes on 5, One Anchorage extends our deepest appreciation to the many dedicated volunteers and donors across Alaska who poured their hearts and souls into this unprecedented grassroots effort.  We remain proud of their tireless work and we would not have come so far without them.  They are the heroes of our community.  The foundation we laid with them over the past year will serve as the basis of future victories for equality.”

-- Eric Christopher Adams

Update Tuesday 10:15 p.m.: Now that the polls are closed in Anchorage, Dittman Research, an Anchorage-based polling firm, has given Alaska Dispatch permission to publish its official predictions for the municipal election.

This email came in early Tuesday evening from Matt Larkin over at Dittman:

Any polling firm worth their salt should be willing to go on record with their election predictions…

So, here are our predictions on the Muni election results. 

Mayor Race 

Dan Sullivan 59 percent
Paul Honeman 40 percent
Everyone Else 1 percent

 

Prop 5 

This one will be very close. The No's have been closing and could end up coming out on top.

Yes 51 percent
No  49 percent

 

Update Tuesday 10:00 p.m.: City Clerk Barbara Gruenstein said that those ballots cast by voters who registered on the day of the election will not be considered valid. As for the number of ballots cast and the polling places that ran out of ballots, Gruenstein said that it was just a matter of being caught off guard by the turnout.

"Turnout's always high in a mayoral election," Gruenstein said, "but there was nothing that could have indicated this."

Meanwhile, with 67 percent of precincts reporting, hope for Proposition 5 passing continues to dwindle, with about 43 percent for to 57 percent against. All other propositions appear to be winning handily.

Update Tuesday 9:20 p.m.: With 33 percent of precincts reporting, the vote on Proposition 5 remains close, but not as close as initially: 46 percent yes to 54 percent no. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan leads by about 14 points, 55 percent to Paul Honeman's 41 percent.

If the vote on proposition 5 remains this close, it may not be decided tonight, with numerous questionable ballots cast today, including the many sample ballots used in lieu of normal ballots at locations where they ran out of ballots. 

Additionally, questionable ballots were cast by some of those opposed to Proposition 5, spurred on by a post on the No on 5 Facebook page, erroneously telling voters that they could register on the same day of the election and still have their vote counted.

According to Anchorage voter registration rules, voters must be registered 30 days prior to an election in order to be eligible to vote.

Update Tuesday 9:00 p.m.: One hour after the official close of polls, election central -- in the Dena'ina Convention Center -- begins filling up, and results begin to come in With 14 of 121 precincts reporting, Proposition 5 -- the hotly-contested anti-discrimination ballot measure -- is as tight as can be, with 49.5 percent voting yes and 50.5 percent voting no.

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, up for re-election, is leading his nearest challenger by about 8 points. Paul Honeman, the candidate who has attacked Sullivan over snow removal in this winter of near-record proportions, trailed with 44 percent of the vote to Sullivan's 52 percent.

Update Tuesday 8:30 p.m.: Polls were supposed to have closed at 8 p.m. in the Anchorage Municipal election, though some polling places may have remained open later. One voter reported that her polling place received an influx of extra ballots at about 7:40 but it took about 20-30 minutes before those who had queued up to vote were able to do so.

Locations that had reportedly  run out of ballots were all over town. One resident reported that ballots had run out at Alpenglow Elementary in Eagle River, where voters were given sample ballots which were then placed in a separate box from the regular ballots.

Other locations that had reportedly run out of ballots included Scenic Park Elementary, Service High School, Grace Christian School, Fairview Rec Center, Klatt Elementary, and others around town.

Update Tuesday 7:50 p.m.: Despite reports of problems at numerous polling stations, it wasn't all all doom and gloom around town, though voters do appear to be showing up in force, if one polling place in the Airports Heights area of Anchorage is any indication. The voting station at Trinity Christian Reformed Church said at about 7:30 that they still had plenty of ballots, though more than one-third of the registered voters for the precinct had already turned out for the election.

If that number were to hold true around town, then this election could dwarf previous recent Municipal elections: the April 2011 Municipal election saw only about 23 percent of registered voters turn out, while the 2010 election was even more dismal at just under 20 percent. The last time a mayoral election was held in 2009, when Dan Sullivan and Eric Croft entered a runoff after emerging as the top two candidates in a field of 15, the turnout was a little better: about 30 percent.

Update Tuesday 7:22 p.m.: With a controversial ballot proposition and City Hall up for grabs on Tuesday, Anchorage's municipal election may have turned out to be a little more than election officials bargained for. Reports began trickling in early evening that several polling locations from Eagle River to South Anchorage had run out of ballots.

The city clerk's office was reportedly hand-delivering ballots to affected precincts, according to several sources, including mayoral challenger Paul Honeman and Trevor Storrs, spokesperson for One Anchorage, the campaign behind Proposition 5, a citizens initiative which, if passed, would grant protection from discrimination to gay and transgendered individuals in the city.

There are still several ways to vote if your polling place has run out of ballots.

First: make sure you are in line to vote before 8 p.m. Voters in line before 8 will not be turned away, the clerk's office said.

Second: there are two universal polling places in Anchorage, at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and the University of Alaska Anchorage, where citizens can vote regardless of the precinct in which they are registered.

"Do not leave the polls until they let you vote," Honeman urged followers on his Twitter feed.

Alaska Dispatch staff writer Ben Anderson contributed to this rolling blog of Anchorage election news. Contact Eric Christopher Adams at eric(at)alaskadispatch.com