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Alaskans deserve fair and honest elections

  • Author: Sen. Kevin Meyer
    | Opinion
  • Updated: August 28, 2016
  • Published August 28, 2016

Fair and honest elections are the bedrock on which our democracy is built. They allow us to settle our differences with the pen instead of the sword that plagues so much of the rest of the world today.

Fair and honest elections should not be allowed to become a partisan issue in this state. Fair and honest elections are not a Democrat issue or a Republican issue. They are an all-Alaska issue.

Problems have been detected in the primary election held on August 16 of this year.  Yes, a majority of the problems have popped up in a Democrat primary in Northwest Alaska, but clean elections are not a regional problem. They are an all-Alaska problem.

Fundamentally, when we disagree, we debate. We put forward candidates we think reflect our views. And then we vote.

After the votes are counted, the candidate with the most votes wins.  We shake hands and go forward following as best we can the will of the people.  Because we know, that when we disagree, we will have the power of a vote again.

This process has served the United States well for more than 200 years. It has served Alaska well since Statehood. But it is a process that works only so long as the citizens have trust in the process.

A majority trust this system because they believe the people involved do their best to ensure that at least when it comes time to vote, the vote is fair. A shadow of a doubt in the fairness of the vote has been raised this year.  There have been problems.

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott is responsible for overseeing elections in Alaska.  It is his primary job.  Since being elected in 2014, the August 16 primary was his first statewide go at the job.  He has a new Director of Elections, Josie Bahnke, working for him.  It is no surprise some problems popped up. Learning a new job is never easy.

This is especially true when that job entails seeing to it that a lot of other people know their jobs. It would appear that in some cases this year, they did not.

Voters in Shungnak were apparently given primary ballots for both parties, and then all those ballots were counted.

Voters in Chefornak were apparently given primary ballots for both parties, and then later allowed to decide which they wanted to vote.

Voters in Newtok appear to have lacked legal voting booths in which to cast secret ballots – a cornerstone of our individual voting rights. Individuals were forced to cast a public vote.

The Senate State Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing for Monday to find out what went wrong with the August 16 primary vote in these communities and others. This needs to be done. Though many of the election irregularities appear to have taken place in the still-close Democrat race in House District 40, this is not simply a House District 40 problem.

This is an Alaska problem.

It is as important that the vote be fair in Shungnak as it is in Sitka. It is as vital the vote be trusted in Chefornak as it is in Cordova. It is as necessary the sanctity of the voting place be maintained in Newtok as well as in Nome.

Some of my colleagues believe I am sometimes a little too pragmatic in my political views. They are of the "don't retreat, reload" school of politics. I confess to trying to be more the uniter than the divider. I admit I sometimes lean toward consensus, cooperation and, the most dangerous c-word of all these days, compromise.

But on the issue of clean elections, there is no compromise. There are no gray areas. The issues are black and white.

There have been rules established to ensure fair and honest elections, and the rules must be followed in every city, town, village and census-designated place from Barrow to Ketchikan and from Eagle to Adak or fairness and honesty will be lost.

I am confident Lt. Gov. Mallott and Director Bahnke, as public servants of this great state, will make themselves available Monday to hear the concerns of Alaskans and be able to explain to Alaskans why the irregularities occurred.  I hope that we will be able to find solutions on how to fix what went wrong in the primary election. I believe Lt. Gov. Mallott and Director Bahnke want fair and honest elections.

And I hope they understand this is not a Democrat issue, though they are Democrats; or a Republican issue, though I am a Republican, but an Alaska issue.  When it comes to fair and honest elections in the 49th state, there are no Republican Alaskans or Democrat-Alaskans or Libertarian-Alaskans or AIP-Alaskans or Green-Alaskans.

When it comes to fair and honest elections in Alaska, we are not separate peoples. No matter where we live or where we came from or where our ancestors made their homes, we are bound by the same simple belief that democracy matters.

And at the very heart of our democracy is a vote everyone can trust.

Kevin Meyer, an Anchorage Republican, is president of the Alaska Senate.