The Alaska Division of Elections said Monday it is investigating absentee ballot irregularities in a primary race for an east Anchorage state House district — including absentee ballot applications sent in under the names of people who are dead, and votes cast in the name of at least two people who said they had never actually voted.
In the Republican primary in that district, Aaron Weaver is leading incumbent Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux by just three votes.
In a statement Monday, Alaska elections officials said suspicions arose when a higher-than-normal number of ballots for the Aug. 21 state primary came back as "undeliverable." There's a certain number of undeliverable absentee ballots in every election, and the state tries to contact those voters and get them new ballots, the statement said.
But in this primary, more than half of the voters the state was unable to reach — 40 out of 70 — were from House District 15, the statement said.
In addition, the state received seven absentee ballot applications from the district for people who were deceased, according to the statement. The state did not mail ballots to those individuals, the statement said.
Meanwhile, the high number of ballots that were never delivered prompted a review of all of the absentee ballots in House District 15, said Samantha Miller, communications manager for the Alaska Divisions of Elections.
In the second review, officials found there was no reason to be concerned about the vast majority of absentee ballots from the district, according to Monday's statement from elections officials. Various records showed most of the absentee voters had long voting histories at their addresses and their signatures matched division records over the years, the statement said.
But other absentee ballots raised concerns that the person identified as the voter either did not vote the ballot or was no longer living in House District 15, the statement said.
The statement said officials tried to contact those voters with questionable ballots. Some phone numbers weren't in service or no one picked up the phone, Miller said. Among the voters the state was able to reach, some confirmed they had indeed voted.
But two voters contacted by the state said they had not actually voted in the 2018 primary, Miller said. She said the elections division will not be counting those ballots.
On Tuesday, state officials will be conducting a provisional count that separates House District 15 absentee ballots, Miller said. She said any additional votes identified as 'improper" would be subtracted from the vote total. The election is scheduled to be certified on Saturday.
Miller said that as of Monday, the state is estimating residency or legitimacy concerns with about between 10 and 20 ballots. A total of 210 absentee ballots were cast district-wide.
Miller said she couldn't yet say how many of the questioned ballots were in the Republican or Democratic primaries. Because of the razor-tight margin in the Republican primary race, Miller said, state officials sought to brief the candidates and the Alaska Republican Party about the voting irregularities. In the Democratic primary, Lyn Franks had 46 percent of the vote over her two opponents, a difference of about 50 ballots.
Tuckerman Babcock, the chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, said Monday no Democratic ballots have been brought into question.
"This is just an issue in the Republican primary," he said.
Observers of the Republican primary race met Monday about the irregularities, said Josh Walton, executive director of the Alaska Republican Party.
The meeting attendees included LeDoux, Walton and attorneys, Walton said. Weaver did not attend.
LeDoux has been at odds with the party since 2016, when she broke with the party and joined the Democratic-led House Majority coalition. She couldn't be immediately be reached for comment Monday.
The division expects to be taking an "extra hard look" at the roughly 10 to 20 votes cast in the Republican primary, based on the irregularities that have been discovered, Walton said.
The number is "fluid," he said, because that includes some ballots that have already raised questions, and others yet to arrive that may need to be looked at.
"So far we're satisfied. This is a level of scrutiny we haven't seen before," Walton said. "They've been very open with the party, and they've been great to work with."
"This is our primary, we want to make sure it's done right and that the results that are certified accurately reflect the will of the voters," Walton added.
Weaver said he has no evidence anything improper has happened.
"I have total faith in the Division of Elections," he said. "They are cognizant of ensuring a fair election, so I'll wait until the process goes through."
Miller said the House District 15 race is the only state primary race where voting irregularities have been discovered.
In a statement Monday, elections officials said that candidates or groups of voters can request a recount or challenge the results in court. The statement also said a court challenge would need to be resolved quickly because the division will need to know the winner of the primary in time to print ballots for the general election.