Anchorage Assembly postpones vote on proposed changes to rules covering election observers

The Anchorage Assembly postponed a vote on an ordinance that would update the city’s election laws and make several changes to rules for observers.

Assembly members passed a slew of amendments to the ordinance Tuesday night before adjourning when the clock hit midnight and postponing its vote to a meeting next week.

The Assembly generally makes updates to the city’s election code each year to clarify the laws and address arising issues after an annual review of the code.

The Assembly’s debate on Tuesday night was preceded by extensive public testimony from people in support of and against the changes.

The ordinance would require election observers to complete city-provided training and tour of the election center. The changes would also enshrine in code that observers must follow the Election Observer’s Handbook and that the municipal clerk, with “good cause,” can limit the number of observers.

“The ordinance does not change the number of observers allowed or the times when observers are authorized to observe election activities. It does not change the reasons why an observer may be asked to leave an election location or the MOA election team’s commitment to ensuring that observers understand the election process and showing them all aspects of that process,” Assembly chair Suzanne LaFrance said.

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Many who criticize the changes say they put too much power in the hands of the municipal clerk and could mean the clerk could limit the public’s ability to observe the election process. Some questioned why the Assembly changed language in city code to restrict election observers from having devices capable of recording images or sound within certain areas of voting and ballot processing locations.

“These changes undermine public trust and confidence in our elections,” Mayor Dave Bronson said at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting. “When a voter steps in to vote, they expect that they can trust their vote to count and be tallied for the person of their choice. We must uphold transparency and fairness in our elections.”

Bronson did not say what specifically in the proposal undermines public trust and transparency. However, during public testimony he expressed concern that election observers would not be allowed to carry their phones or other devices while observing. He also asked whether a section of code would prevent observers from watching the ballot signature verification process, which helps prevent voter fraud in the city’s vote by mail elections. In response, Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones clarified that the code does not prevent observers from watching and that observers should be able to closely watch that part of ballot envelope processing.

The Assembly proposed some of the election code changes in response to a report from the municipal clerk describing “unprecedented harassment of election officials” by some election observers and members of the public during this year’s mayoral election. Proposed changes included adding to code that observers should follow the Observer’s Handbook and that observers “shall follow instructions of the municipal clerk or designee and on-site security.”

The proposal included two periods for public testimony, including on Tuesday. Some testifiers have expressed distrust in the election process, referencing disproven claims about fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Many testifiers have called for continuous livestreaming and more opportunities for observation and transparency.

One unanimous amendment addressed that concern, specifying that the Assembly expects the city’s elections center will be livestreamed 24/7 during elections processes, though the Assembly added language only to the introductory portion of the ordinance, and not to part of the ordinance that would become city code.

Bronson also called for 24/7 livestreaming or recordings of election processes, and Assembly member Jamie Allard, an ally of Bronson, called for the requirement to be added to city code as well.

Jones said that a 12-hour time limit with YouTube’s livestreaming service have prevented the elections center from fully implementing 24/7 livestreaming so far, though cameras are always recording in the elections center, she said.

A proposal from Assembly member John Weddleton that would have required Anchorage voters with an out-of-state mailing addresses to request a ballot before every election failed in a 5-5 vote.

Weddleton said he had suggested the change to address concerns of some people about the security of vote-by-mail elections and situations that could arise when registered voters leave the state and don’t remove themselves from the state’s voter database. Several Assembly members opposed the amendment, saying that the point of vote-by-mail is to make participating easier, not more difficult, for registered voters.

The Assembly also passed several other amendments, including adding definitions for terms in the code’s language and one amendment that added a provision for the clerk’s office to provide an “observer liaison” to help with their registration, training and questions.

Another change to the ordinance would allow the municipal clerk to exercise discretion when adjudicating ballots to include votes on mismarked ballots in the final vote tally in situations where a ballot has been improperly marked by a voter but the voter’s intent is decidedly clear.

The Assembly will take up the ordinance and remaining amendments at a special meeting on Dec. 28.

Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at