JUNEAU — Eleven months ago, speaking to Republicans at a primary election debate in Juneau’s Prospector restaurant, Kevin Meyer promised that if he were elected, he would seek to restore Gail Fenumiai as director of the Alaska Division of Elections.
On Friday, Lt. Gov. Meyer fulfilled that promise.
Fenumiai, who oversaw the state’s election system between 2008 and 2015, will begin her new-old job Jan. 2, according to a message from the lieutenant governor’s office. Josie Bahnke, the former Nome city manager who became elections director under Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, has already been dismissed from state service.
Lauri Wilson, the regional elections supervisor for Southeast Alaska, will be in charge of the division until Fenumiai takes office.
Republicans have criticized Bahnke’s performance as elections supervisor, particularly after the 2016 Democratic primary in House District 40. In that race, which was decided by the Alaska Supreme Court, judges ruled there had been errors and “malconduct” by elections officials. The Alaska Supreme Court ultimately awarded the election to Dean Westlake, who helped form the Democratic-led coalition House Majority, over Benjamin Nageak, who had joined Republicans in a prior House majority.
At the January debate in Juneau, Meyer referred to Bahnke as a political appointee and said he would seek to replace her with Fenumiai, who had overseen several particularly challenging elections, including U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s 2010 general-election victory as a write-in candidate.
Before becoming overall head of the Division of Elections, Fenumiai worked her way through the ranks as an elections coordinator, information officer and elections program specialist.
“Gail has the skills, wisdom, experience and judgment to restore Alaskans' faith and trust in our elections process, and that is exactly what we pledge to do,” Meyer said in a prepared statement accompanying the announcement.