Politics

Alaska’s top election official confident in state’s voting systems, but expresses concerns about election misinformation

early voting, divsion of elections

Alaska’s lieutenant governor, Kevin Meyer, said Wednesday that he’s satisfied that the state’s ballot-counting processes in next week’s general election will work to keep voting secure, but that misinformation about voter fraud is a concern.

Nationally, there have been reports of pro-Trump poll watchers recruited to intimidate voters and challenge election results. In Arizona, armed and masked men watched as voters cast ballots at drop boxes. But there have not been reports of violence or threats of violence against Alaska’s election workers.

“We’ve been very fortunate and have not been victim of that, and I hope and pray that that continues over the course of the election through certification,” election director Gail Fenumiai told reporters on Wednesday.

In the lead-up to the 2020 election, 113,000 Alaskans had their data breached by a cyberattack from actors outside the U.S. Election results were not impacted.

Meyer said state agencies have received reports of cybersecurity concerns coming from Russia, but his biggest frustration is that domestic misinformation about voter fraud is helping foreign actors undermine the voting systems.

Meyer, the state’s top elected official who oversees voting in Alaska, ordered an unprecedented statewide audit of results in 2020 to calm concerns about fraud.

The audit had election workers hand-count each of the 361,400 ballots cast and they came up with a total of 24 votes that were different from those certified by the Division of Elections. There is no plan to do another statewide hand recount this year.

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In July, former President Donald Trump held a rally in Anchorage to campaign for Republicans Sarah Palin and Kelly Tshibaka as they ran for the U.S. House and Senate.

[2022 Alaska voter guide: Candidate comparisons, videos of debates, voter resources, full coverage]

Palin does not believe President Joe Biden won the 2020 election fairly. Tshibaka has said there are outstanding questions about that election, while echoing disproven conspiracy theories.

Trump’s Anchorage rally was attended by election denier Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow, who is being investigated by the FBI for allegedly tampering with voting machines in Colorado. Meyer, a Republican who has repeatedly defended Alaska’s election systems as secure, was exasperated Wednesday during a briefing with news media.

“Some people would rather listen to the MyPillow Guy for their information on election security, than say our own Division of Elections,” he said.

Meyer is not running to be lieutenant governor again. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s running mate and lieutenant governor candidate Nancy Dahlstrom has declined to answer questions whether she believes the 2020 election was secure and decided fairly.

Both Jessica Cook, the Democratic lieutenant governor candidate running with Les Gara’s, and Heidi Drygas, who is running with former independent Gov. Bill Walker, have said the election was secure and that Trump’s election conspiracy theories are baseless.

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Tabulation process

Voters’ first choices on ballots cast on Election Day will be counted that night, but Alaskans will have to wait more than two weeks to watch the ranked-choice tabulation process take place.

Absentee ballots can arrive from overseas and be counted up to 15 days after the election. The division decided to wait until all ballots arrived before tabulating voters’ other choices, which Fenumiai said was to avoid confusion.

State officials filmed the historic rollout of results for Alaska’s first use of the new voting system on a cellphone. This time around, staff from KTOO-TV in Juneau will head to the Division of Elections offices to film and broadcast the tabulation process live, starting at 4 p.m., Nov. 23.

Fenumiai said the results would be read in turn for each race. The process would be fast, she said, like it was in August for Democrat Rep. Mary Peltola’s special election win.

Absentee ballots could also be a factor in seeing some results shift. Two years ago, a record number of voters cast ballots by mail as COVID-19 cases soared, and a greater proportion of progressives voted that way.

Some races in 2020 saw a “blue shift” when by-mail ballots were counted with left-leaning candidates seemingly coming from behind against their conservative opponents.

By Wednesday evening, over 49,000 Alaskans had already voted and 27,000 of them had voted absentee. Those figures are similar to 2018, another non-presidential election, and Meyer warned “the numbers are going to change” in some races as absentee ballots are counted.

early voting, divsion of elections

Poll workers needed

Two communities in Southwest Alaska still need poll workers to open on Election Day: St. Mary’s and Goodnews Bay.

”Unfortunately, at this point, we’ve exhausted our contacts to the best of my knowledge,” Fenumiai said.

Get Out the Native Vote, a nonprofit, has been helping the division with staffing at polling places in rural Alaska and so has Native Peoples Action.

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State officials hope to find poll workers in the next week, but Fenumiai said that if staffing is not resolved, absentee ballots can be requested electronically until 5 p.m., Nov. 7 - the day before Election Day.

Michelle Sparck, director of Get Out the Native Vote, said that may not work in villages where broadband internet service is poor and residents may not have access to printers. She is scrambling, along with members of the Dunleavy administration, to find poll workers for this election and to retain them for the longer term.

Two rural communities failed to open polling locations for the August primary and special congressional election. Meyer said the challenge is that there may be just one poll worker in a village, which makes the system vulnerable.

Sparck said there have been legendary anecdotes of efforts to open precincts in the past, including poll workers arriving on chartered flights into remote communities so that people could vote.

”I think it’s worth those kinds of efforts, because whether or not we take advantage of this right, I think it should always be an option,” she said. “It should always be an opportunity.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported when Rep. Mary Sattler won the special election for Alaska’s U.S. House seat. It was August not September.

Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at smaguire@adn.com.

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