Politics

Alaska’s top election administrator set to retire this week

Alaska Division of Elections director Gail Fenumiai

Alaska’s top elections administrator is leaving her position at the end of this week, after overseeing the state’s first ranked choice elections.

Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai’s last day in the job will be Friday. “My focus now, as it has always been, is the division,” Fenumiai said in an email.

Fenumiai has been in the role since 2019, when she was appointed by former Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer. She previously served as the state’s elections director between 2008 and 2015, and is a 20-year veteran of administering Alaska’s elections.

Meyer shared that Fenumiai had decided to retire in an interview on Tuesday. Fenumiai said later in the day that she would not be available for an interview on her decision until after the conclusion of two recounts in legislative races, scheduled to take place on Wednesday and Thursday.

Meyer, who announced his retirement from politics late last year and was replaced by Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom on Monday, attributed Fenumiai’s departure to the toll of election misinformation that has weighed on election officials since 2020, when former President Donald Trump cast doubt on the results of the presidential election, leading to a wave of unfounded election denialism from his supporters.

“It was a challenge at times to educate and convince people that maybe the information that they got from the MyPillow Guy isn’t necessarily accurate and you should trust your election folks who actually work here on the frontlines,” Meyer said Tuesday, referring to avid Trump follower Mike Lindell. “It didn’t impact me so much because I’m used to — having been in the Legislature so long — you’re used to having people who don’t necessarily agree with you. But it did take a toll on our election workers.”

“So we are losing a lot of knowledge and talent out of our elections department. That concerns me and I’ve talked to Nancy about it,” Meyer added, referring to the incoming lieutenant governor, who will oversee Alaska’s elections and be responsible for choosing Fenumiai’s successor. “The pros are that now Nancy can bring in her own team to run elections but I think the con is that she also loses some valuable experience.”

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Dahlstrom has declined to speak about her position on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election or the administration of Alaska’s elections.

The lieutenant governor’s office directed questions on Tuesday to the governor’s communications staff. Spokespeople for the governor did not respond to multiple emails and calls seeking comment from Dahlstrom.

Meyer said his suggestion to Dahlstrom was to hire from within the existing ranks of the Division of Elections.

“I do think there are definitely some qualified people within the Division of Elections now that she could pick to be the director,” Meyer said.

In addition to Fenumiai, the election administrator overseeing the Fairbanks office — one of five regional offices across the state — has left the division, effective earlier this month. Division of Elections spokesperson Tiffany Montemayor said two other regional administrators, based in Anchorage and Nome, were hired after the 2020 election, “and that took a while.” Neither of the two administrators were hired internally from the division, she said.

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Montemayor said in an email that Fenumiai had made the decision in September to retire following the conclusion of the election held in November.

During a live-streamed ranked choice tabulation late last month, Fenumiai broke into tears as she thanked election workers “for their integrity, hard work and dedication.”

“No matter what it takes, you do what it takes to get the job done,” she said. “Alaska voters are lucky to have you at the helm.”

Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The Associated Press and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at isamuels@adn.com.

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