A group of 10 residents is contesting Anchorage’s April 4 city election, claiming that more than 36,000 voters were disenfranchised because they didn’t receive either a notice of the election or a mailed ballot package. On Tuesday, the Assembly will decide whether to investigate those claims, or to reaffirm its vote that certified the election results last month.
Election clerk Jamie Heinz, in a response, said the Assembly should reject the challenge and decline to hear it. The election division followed all city code requirements for notice of the election and mailed ballots to all voters that city code requires, Heinz said. The clerk is not required to mail ballots to some registered voters. That includes those who haven’t voted in at least four years in a state or municipal election, and voters whose mail sent by the state Division of Elections has been returned as undeliverable.
Contests to Anchorage elections are rare. There has not been an election contest in the last 10 years, according to the city clerk. One was filed in 1993, a search of the Assembly’s online document portal shows. According to city code, any candidate of an election or a group of 10 voters can contest the results of any race, question or proposition on the ballot.
City code requires a contest to assert one or more of three grounds: That there has been “malconduct, fraud or corruption on the part of an election official sufficient to change the result of the election;” or that an official that’s been elected is not qualified as required by law; or that there’s been “any corrupt practice as defined by law sufficient to change the result of the election.”
The contest, filed by Dan Smith and Brenda Hastie on May 4, is broadly challenging election results.
It’s also signed by John Henry, who previously challenged the election results alongside Smith and a former chief of staff to Mayor Dave Bronson, Sami Graham. Graham’s husband, Bruce Graham, is also one of the 10 voters who has signed the election contest that the Assembly will consider Tuesday.
In their April 11 appeal, Graham, Henry and Smith quoted an internal city policy that didn’t exist until the day they filed their appeal to the city’s Election Commission. The city ombudsman is now investigating the circumstances behind that appeal, after receiving a complaint from a person troubled that the three observers, who are not currently employed by the city, knew about the policy added by the city’s Information Technology Department that same day.
The commission dismissed that appeal during the April 20 public session of canvass.
That day, it also heard another appeal lodged by Smith, who asserted that thousands of voters did not receive ballots. The commission directed the election clerk to provide Smith with data he had requested — a list of voters who were not mailed a ballot — and it finalized its review of the April 4 election.
In its signed report to the Assembly, the commission said, “There were no failures to comply with the provisions of law that were likely to change the outcome of any of the candidate, races or issues on the ballot.”
The May 4 contest is, essentially, challenging the certification decision of the Assembly.
Directly after the certification vote, seven Assembly members were sworn into office, including two reelected members. The Assembly, including those newlyelected members, must now decide whether the election contest should be heard.
If members reject it, then “immediately, I believe, it would be subject to review by the court,” Assembly Chair Christopher Constant said.
If members on Tuesday vote to hear the contest, the Assembly chair would be authorized to appoint “one or more persons to take evidence concerning the contest and report to the Assembly,” according to the resolution. If the Assembly requests, the election commission has a duty to investigate election contests and report its findings to the Assembly, according to city code.
Then, a hearing would be scheduled, where the Assembly would hear arguments from the complainants and rebuttal from the clerk, deliberate and vote, Constant said.
Heinz, on May 1, gave Smith a list of 35,974 registered voters the city did not mail ballots to. They had been categorized by the state as having an undeliverable address, hadn’t voted in at least four years, or both, she said in her report.
In the election contest filed a few days later, Smith and the others said that 1,193 registered voters did not receive a ballot by mail, although they had voted in the state’s November general election.
In her response, Heinz said that comparison is “irrelevant to an election contest.” The number of registered voters in the municipality changes daily as voters register, update or cancel their registration, and “logically was different between November 8, 2022, and March 5, 2023,” the deadline to register in order to vote in the April 4 city election, she said.
Voters can also request a replacement ballot if they don’t receive one, cast a ballot in-person at the city’s three vote centers, and request to vote by fax or email.
Smith also claimed “36,143 registered voters were deprived of the notice of an upcoming election” because they were not mailed an election announcement postcard.
Heinz said the city mailed postcards notifying residents that their Assembly district may have changed because the city redrew district boundaries last year.
The city isn’t required to mail postcard election notices but it did so in the past “for the purpose of obtaining undeliverable information to help clean up the voter rolls prior to an MOA election,” she said. Because the state had conducted a by-mail primary election, a primary election, and a general election, “we felt that the voter rolls were likely in good shape.”