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Assembly certifies election, subject to recount in 15 precincts

Rosemary Shinohara

The Anchorage Assembly voted 8 to 3 Thursday to finally certify the flawed April 3 city election, subject to the results of a recount of 15 precincts.

The election was plagued by ballot shortages at precincts all around town. Some people voted on sample ballots that couldn't be counted until after election day. Some would-be voters said they gave up and went home.

But a private lawyer hired to advise the Assembly on certification told the Assembly it can't arbitrarily decide not to certify the election.

If someone formally contests the results -- and no one did by the deadline -- that person must establish that there was corruption or reckless conduct, wrote Timothy Petumenos, the independent counsel.

Petumenos said even "outright corrupt or criminal conduct which may have been aimed at affecting the outcome" wouldn't be sufficient grounds not to certify unless the conduct could have changed the outcome.

In fact, Petumenos said, failure to follow the certification procedures in place before the election could result in federal constitutional violations.

Petumenos is a former prosecutor.

Assemblyman Patrick Flynn, who voted against certification, said he felt the law was wrong. "I can vote to uphold the law or vote to do what's right," Flynn said.

Elvi Gray-Jackson and Harriet Drummond also opposed certification.

But other Assembly members said the body needed to follow the law.

"There's something inherent in me that I have to follow the law," said Assembly chairman Ernie Hall.

In the meantime, a group of voters didn't contest the election, but have requested a hand count of 15 precincts to audit the results.

The city will do that, Hall said.

Hall said he's been wanting to have a hand recount of some precincts to validate the machine count, but didn't have the authority without a voter request.

Hall said he is also still working to hire a special investigator to review the election and make recommendations, and expects to name one soon.

Ten voters signed the petition to recount 15 precincts. They had to put up $100 a precinct, and 15 was all they had money for, said Linda Kellen Biegel, one of the group.

Biegel, co-editor of The Mudflats blog, said they picked a mix of precincts that ran short of ballots and those that didn't, as well as precincts that had anomalies such as an unusually high turnout.

"I don't have an expectation of the outcome," Biegel said. "I want to feel comfortable we have the correct outcome."

"I know that folks in my neighborhood ... are now questioning whether it matters to vote," she said. Her precinct, voting at Hanshew Middle School in South Anchorage, was one that ran short of ballots.

The Election Commission in a report completed last week found that more than half of city precincts temporarily ran out of ballots on election day.

Commission chairwoman Gwen Mathew told the Assembly on Thursday while there's been a lot of talk about the security of voting machines, there haven't been any verified reports of broken security seals on the machines.

A woman in the audience called out, "That's a lie." The woman, who later identified herself as election worker Wendy Isbell, was escorted out of the room. She said she had reported such an incident. Isbell is one of the 10 requesting a recount.

No public testimony was allowed at the certification meeting.

In the election, voters re-elected Mayor Dan Sullivan, picked three school board members and turned down a proposition to extend the city's equal rights law to outlaw discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.

In each case, the decisions were by a large margin.

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.


By ROSEMARY SHINOHARA
Anchorage Daily News