Alaska News Nightly: August 31, 2010

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Vote Gap Between Murkowski and Miller Narrows Slightly
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The absentee ballot count today in the Republican U.S. Senate primary shows a slight narrowing of the gap between Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller at this hour. As of 4:00 p.m., Miller is leading Murkowski by 1,210 votes, down from 1,668 votes after last Tuesday’s election.

Thousands of absentee ballots were counted today at the Anchorage office of the state division of elections.  The ballots are pivotal in the outcome of the race for Alaska’s available US Senate seat in the November election.

But things were quiet this morning as election volunteers, most of them women, sat at their workstations.   Both the Miller and the Murkowski campaigns had sent observers to watch the proceedings.  Gail Fenumiai, division of elections director,   said ballot counting was taking place at the same time in Wasilla

Fenumiai said questioned ballots, those voted on election day, but without proper address identification,   are verified by a bipartisan review board.  Despite fears expressed by the Miller campaign regarding mishandling of the vote count, the operation seemed to go smoothly. Other than a handful of reporters, there were few members of the public in evidence at the division office in Anchorage.

When new numbers were posted to the state election division website shortly before eleven this morning, the returns showed a slight lessening of the gap between the two candidates – in Murkowski’s favor.  John Bitney speaks for Lisa Murkowski’s campaign.

The districts reflecting the early returns were in Anchorage and Eagle River.  Miller campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto said he wasn’t worried about them

Shortly after noon, Matanuska Valley election officials finished counting absentee votes in Wasilla.  Those returns lessened Miller’s advantage by about one tenth of a percentage point.

Ballot Counting Continues
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage and Dave Donaldson, APRN – Anchorage
APRN’s Juneau correspondent, Dave Donaldson, is keeping tabs on the returns today.

The vote counting continues on Friday and on September 8. By state law, the division has up to 15 days after the election to review and count absentee and questioned ballots.

Lt. Governor Responds to Vote Tampering Allegation
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Lieutenant Governor Craig Campbell is responding to a complaint by the Miller campaign of alleged vote tampering at the Mat Su Division of Elections office. An attorney for the Miller campaign, Thomas Van Flein, wrote a letter to the Division of Elections yesterday accusing a Murkowski campaign observer of accessing election information on a state computer. Campbell says the full review of the incident is not complete. But he has determined the security of the voter system could not have been compromised.

The complaint also accuses the observer of trying to bring a back pack into the ballot observation room. Campbell says that claim appears to be true, but election officials stopped him. The Miller campaign says the observer also tried to use his smart phone from inside the observation room, which is prohibited. Campbell says it looks like that complaint is true.

Campbell says the full inquiry into the matter should be complete soon. Until then, he says its too early to say what type of repercussions may be in store for the observer or the Murkowski campaign. He says it’s unusual for the Division of Elections to have to investigate these types of allegations.

Campbell denied a request by the Miller campaign to station state troopers at the election offices where vote counting is taking place today.

Judge Sets Hoonah Murder Suspect’s Bail at $1 Million
Matt Miller & Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
A Juneau magistrate has set bail at $1 million for the Hoonah man accused of shooting and killing two police officers last weekend.

45-year-old John Marvin Jr. appeared in Juneau District Court today (Tuesday) — escorted by a state trooper and a judicial services officer — dressed in red prison pants and shirt, slip-on shoes, and hands and feet cuffed and chained.

District Attorney Doug Gardner justified such a high bail amount by saying the shooting of Officers Tony Wallace and Matt Tokuoka was an “unprovoked slaying.” Both officers did not even contact Marvin Saturday night and were — instead – socializing with their own family members. Marvin also has a record – including a conviction for sexual abuse of a minor in 1993.

Magistrate John Sivertsen attempted to explain to Marvin his rights, but Marvin did not appear to be very responsive.

At least twice he blurted out, “I’m John McMartin Royal.”

Then, after reading the charging documents, he repeatedly asked “Who’s treating Officer Wallace?”

In partial frustration, Magistrate Sivertsen replied “I don’t know. I think he’s dead.”

Marvin was appointed a public defender who did not immediately contest the high bail amount.

Sivertson advised Marvin that – if convicted — he would face a minimum of 99-years in prison for each charge of murder of a police officer.

Today’s court hearing was also attended by members of the District Attorney’s office –a few of whom were visible upset — half-a-dozen Juneau police officers, state troopers from the Juneau post, and other courthouse staff.

Marvin’s next court appearance in Juneau District Court is September 8th unless a grand jury returns with a bill of indictment. Then, the case will automatically go to Superior Court.

Meanwhile, Hoonah’s Interim City Administrator Bob Prunella says counselors from SEARHC Behavioral Health led community stress management workshops today (Tuesday) at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall. He says the counselors are also meeting with people individually as needed.

“I know they’ve already been meeting with a lot of the first responders and there’s two chaplains here that are connected to the state police, and they’re going to spend an extra day. So, some good stuff’s
happening,” he says.

Prunella says more reinforcements arrived Monday night for Hoonah’s depleted police force. Yakutat Police Chief John Nichols is doing patrol shifts, and two officers from Wrangell continue to fill in. Wrangell Police Lieutenant Merlin Ehlers is serving as acting police chief while Hoonah Chief John Millan takes time to grieve.

Classes were canceled at Hoonah School on Monday due to the police standoff with Marvin, who barricaded himself inside his home after the shootings. Interim Superintendent Charla Wright says counselors were available at the school today for students who may have trouble coping with the weekend’s violence.

“It’s important to let kids get into a familiar place, a safe place, and get back into a routine. And then there will be opportunities to grieve and express their feelings and we have a good support system for them to be able to have support,” she says.

Wright says both officers were involved in school activities. Wallace ran open gyms after school hours, and was a volunteer wrestling coach. Tokuoka had two children, a six-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter.

State flags are lowered to half staff today and a memorial service is being planned.

University of Alaska Collecting Data on Ocean Acidification
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
The University of Alaska has established a research Center to gather data and run experiments on ocean acidification.  The oceans absorb much of the Carbon Dioxide put into the air from the burning of fossil fuels, but that removal comes with a price tag that could involve our fisheries.

Cruise Ship Wastewater Case Lands in Court
Deanna Garrison, KRBD – Ketchikan
The battle over state cruise ship wastewater standards has landed in court. A coalition of conservation groups filed a lawsuit last week challenging a state wastewater discharge permit for the cruise ship industry. The groups contend that the state has watered down the discharge requirements set by voters in 2006 and amended by the legislature last year.

Triathlon Raises Money for Memorial Bike Shelter
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
A triathlon over the weekend in Sitka raised money for a bike shelter to memorialize Alice Machesney, a longtime resident who died last fall at the age of 83. But as KCAW’s Ed Ronco reports, the triathlon, just like Alice, operated on its own set of rules.