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Division of Elections offers Trump, Johnson a second chance at Alaska election pamphlet -- online

  • Author: Erica Martinson
  • Updated: October 19, 2016
  • Published October 19, 2016

The Alaska Division of Elections is offering presidential candidates a second shot at appearing in the state's election pamphlet for voters — but only online.

"We felt it was a reasonable compromise to offer it online," said Josie Bahnke, director of the Division of Elections.

Last week some voters were upset when the booklets arrived in mailboxes without profiles of Republican nominee Donald Trump, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and their respective running mates. Neither campaign submitted information in response to a request from the state.

The Alaska Division of Elections heard a near immediate outcry when the pamphlets began arriving in registered voters' mailboxes last week. (The candidates' names were listed in the booklet, and will still appear on voters' ballots.)

Some voters were quick to lob claims of bias and conspiracy on the part of the state government, others simply mismanagement.

Now the state is looking to rectify the situation, and looking ahead to avoid a similar issue the next time around.

In letters sent to the Republican National Committee and the Libertarian National Committee Monday, the Division of Elections gave the campaigns until Oct. 25 to submit information to be posted online.

The print deadline — Aug. 30 — "is very black and white," Bahnke said, as it is "a very arduous process" to put together four regional booklets and translate all the candidate statements.

Alaskans may remember something similar happening in 2014, with a different result: Now-Gov. Bill Walker (I) was left out of the voter pamphlet, and a supplement went out in the mail to make up for it. The difference: That time, the Division of Elections neglected to ask Walker's campaign for the information.

But after the 2014 election, the department didn't come up with a written policy to deal with similar problems in the future, according to Bahnke. It was more of an "internal discussion about how to handle it moving forward," she said, adding that the issue arose before her time at the Division of Elections.

After November 8, "getting something in writing, whether it's a policy or a regulation… is going to be a big priority for me," Bahnke said.

"If I'm still the chairman during the next election cycle, I'm going to ask to see a mock-up" of the pamphlet before it goes out, said Alaska Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock.

What happened

The state sent its request for pamphlet information in response to the official nominating petition submitted by the Republican National Committee. The state asked the Republican National Committee for contact information for the Trump campaign, but nothing ever came.

The letter was copied to the Alaska Republican Party, though there was no expectation that the state party would, or should, respond. The letter also copied Speaker of the House Paul Ryan; the chairman and presiding secretary of the RNC, and the Federal Election Commission.

When the pamphlet came out without the Republican presidential nominee, Babcock, head of the state party, reached out to the division and to RNC attorney Christina Schaengold, who was the main recipient of the letter. Schaengold did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

But Schaengold told Babcock that she sent the letter to the Trump campaign in early August.

Jerry Ward, the Trump Alaska state director, said that the Division of Elections said he never got a notification. It "got lost in the abyss of the Republican National Committee, so the campaign headquarters was never notified," Ward said. "I checked with Trump national," he added.

The Trump campaign hired its Alaska director, Ward, in August. He is the only official, paid staffer in the state.

"It's a little different than previous presidential campaigns" in that the Trump campaign has its own, separate state organization, rather than one that is more integrated with the state party, Babcock said.

This isn't the first time a presidential candidate has been left out of the pamphlet — just the first time a major party nominee hasn't made the deadline. The Division of Elections appended the same "did not submit" notification for Green Party nominee Jill Stein in 2012 and for Alaskan Independence candidate Chuck Baldwin in 2008.

Biographies were included for all presidential candidates in 2004, 2000 and 1996.

The blame game

There has been plenty of blame and ire offered up in response to the omitted profiles — for the campaign, the party, state officials.

"We got a lot of phone calls in the director's office, and the regional offices did get calls as well," Bahnke said.

"I think a lot of them understood that it was incumbent on the candidate to provide that information to the division," she said. "I think there was some confusion that the division came up with all this information on our own and just forgot, left out the Republican and Libertarian presidential candidates," she said.

Trump and Johnson weren't the only candidates who did not submit information for the booklet — 13 of 157 Alaska candidates did not submit any information, Bahnke said.

Babcock heard from quite a few Republican party members after the pamphlet went out Trump-less.

Though it isn't required by law, it would seem that if two presidential candidates didn't submit information, "just out of a sense of doing right by the people you're serving … you make a phone call," Babcock said.

But in the end, "each of the candidates are responsible for getting their own information in the pamphlet, from president down to representative," he said.

"I also don't let the Trump campaign off the hook," he said.

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