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The Trail

Election workers can’t discuss candidates at the polls. That includes telling voters Walker dropped out.

  • Author: Annie Zak
  • Updated: November 2, 2018
  • Published November 1, 2018

Poll workers in Alaska's election can't discuss candidates with voters at the polls, which means they also can't mention that Gov. Bill Walker is no longer in the race.

Walker, an independent, suspended his re-election campaign on Oct. 19. That was after the Sept. 4 deadline to withdraw from the election, so his name is still on the ballot alongside the other candidates.

But what if a voter hasn't heard the news that Walker is no longer in the race?

The Alaska Division of Elections has provided poll workers with a statement about what they can say to voters if they are asked questions about the governor's race at a voting location.

What's allowed: Poll workers can inform voters of when the withdrawal deadline in the election was. They can also tell them that "No candidate for governor or lieutenant governor withdrew by the deadline and all candidate names are on the final ballot," according to the statement sent out to workers. "A vote for any candidate for governor or lieutenant governor appearing on the 2018 general election ballot will be counted as a vote for that candidate."

Beyond that, election workers can't say much at all, at or near the polling places.

"Nothing beyond this statement may be discussed in the voter area or within 200ft of any entrance to the voting area," the information sent out to workers reads. "If the voter has additional questions, please have them contact our office directly. Remember, if a voter has already voted in this election by any other means, they may NOT vote again."

Since Walker's announcement, "the division has been working hard to mitigate that voter confusion in an equitable manner statewide regarding the gubernatorial race," said Josie Bahnke, director of the elections division.

"We're doing our best with a rather unusual set of circumstances to administer the election," she said. Workers need to remain "strictly impartial," she said, and having a uniform statement for all workers to use is the "most equitable" way to do that.

The reason poll workers can't discuss candidates with voters at the polling place is because of the division's policy around electioneering, she said.

"Examples of methods of campaigning that can't occur includes discussion of any election issue or any candidate," Bahnke said. "I think the confusion part is, suspending a campaign versus withdrawing as a candidate."

Walker dropping out of the race turned it into a two-way fight between leading candidates Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, and Mark Begich, a Democrat. Libertarian candidate Billy Toien is also on the ballot.

Some Dunleavy supporters see the inevitable Walker votes — including absentee ballots cast before he dropped out — to be a potential tipping point in favor of the Republican in the otherwise tight race.

"Depends on how much people are paying attention. There are going to be people who go in there and vote for Walker on Tuesday," said Dan Coffey, a former Anchorage Assemblyman who said he is serving as finance chair for Dunleavy.

For a couple days after Walker announced he was suspending his campaign, the elections division got a lot of calls from people with questions about their ballots and voting, Bahnke said, but those calls have since quieted down.

Kyle Hopkins contributed reporting.