The Anchorage Assembly adopted updates to the city’s procedures for handling elections Tuesday evening.
The 10-1 vote occurred in a special Assembly meeting after members were initially set to vote on the matter last week.
Such adjustments to city election rules are routine, generally happening each year to improve the process for certifying local votes.
Assembly member Felix Rivera characterized such changes as “a regular process” that has happened around two dozen times since 1980.
But this year, in the wake of a mayoral runoff that saw “unprecedented harassment” of local officials amid the spread of disproven claims about the 2020 presidential election, the process dragged on after acrimonious testimony from skeptical members of the public.
“This drew a lot of attention, as it should,” Assembly member John Weddleton said. “Every year, we tweak it a little bit here or there and make it a little bit better.”
“I believe we’ve done an exhaustive amount of work on this,” said Assembly member Pete Petersen, who chairs the body’s Ethics and Elections Committee.
“A lot of this was brought on by the contentious election that was held this year, and so we felt we needed to make some changes to clarify the rules so everyone knows what the requirements are,” Petersen said.
Most of the adjustments are technical. They include provisions like putting 24-hour livestreamed monitoring of the voting center into city code, establishing training requirements for elections observers and clarifying the municipal clerk’s ability to limit in-person observers.
The updates passed with 10 votes, with conservative Assembly member Jamie Allard voting against it. She and Crystal Kennedy, who ultimately voted in favor of the changes, on Tuesday evening echoed sentiments conveyed by Mayor Dave Bronson at earlier meetings.
“There are people who just don’t trust this system,” Kennedy said. “There’s still a lot of pessimism out there.”
“It really is a challenge to make sure we provide something to the public that they can find very trustworthy,” Kennedy said, explaining that people she hears from are suspicious of the vote-by-mail system implemented in the municipality in 2018.
Bronson, who was not physically present at the Tuesday night meeting, narrowly won the majority of votes counted through an elections process he has publicly cast doubt on, and he criticized the proposed adjustments at an earlier meeting on the measures.
“These changes significantly reduce transparency of the election process. When changes are made to elections, the public must be intimately involved and changes must be truly warranted,” Bronson said this month.
Assembly leaders have said the proposed changes aren’t significant or restrictive to observers.
The Assembly did not take public testimony on the measures during its Tuesday meeting. After hearing comments and meeting with past elections observers, Assembly members spent their time tweaking language on amendments to the new rules ahead of passage.
“There’s been a really excellent dialogue,” said Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance.
After hearing many accounts about the voting process, she added that she was planning to direct more resources for election workers and security.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Assembly member Crystal Kennedy voted against the election changes. Kennedy voted in favor of the changes, making the Assembly vote tally 10-1.