City Clerks Office Reviews Voting Problems

Official ballot boxes at City Hall promise a mix of question, absentee and sample ballots handed out by precincts who ran out of official ballots on election night. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage.

The Anchorage city clerks office is calling the voter turn out in yesterday’s election “unprecedented.” The office is investigating the election, working today to figure out which voting precincts ran out of ballots. Voters reported widespread ballot shortages. Mayor Dan Sullivan was reelected by a wide margin. But his main challenger Paul Honeman, is not conceding given the voting irregularities.

It’s Clerk Barbara Gruenstiens 9th time running Anchorgage Municipal Elections, and she says she’s never seen anything like what happened Tuesday.

“We heard that there was somebody spreading information that you could show up at any precinct and register to vote that day and vote that day and your vote would count, and that’s incorrect information.”

In fact, you had to register 30 days before voting day to have your vote count. That somebody who spread mis-information, according to multiple reports is Jim Minnery with the anti-proposition group, “Protect Your Rights.” Minnery sent out a last minute email urging unregistered voters to swamp polling places and vote against the Anchorage Equal Rights Initiative. Minnery says he got bad information from the municipal clerks office.

Gruenstien says the municipal lawyer is reviewing the impact of the voting problems. And election workers are systematically reviewing all the votes:

“What we’re doing right now is the workers are going through the 119 precinct bags that came back. They’re looking at the registers and looking at the commentary sheets form the poll workers and trying to assess how many ballots there will be and kind of what happened at each precinct, whether they used sample ballots, whether they got extra ballots added to their total, so just trying to get an assessment of how many more ballots there are to look at.”

The number of votes that are tallied on the municipal website now is the number of ballots that slid through the acuvote machines. Two of the 121 precincts did not have ‘acuvote’ machines – U.A.A. and Ted Stevens International Airport.

Connie Sumida was the precinct leader for Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church. She says the voting was pretty quiet until late in the evening:

“About 6:30, 7:00 people were starting to come in and say, we’ve been turned away here, we’ve been turned away there. Can we vote a questioned ballot?”

Sumida says 13 people ended up voting questioned ballots at her precinct. She ran out of official questioned ballot envelopes, so she made new ones. She was frustrated other precincts weren’t able to do the same. And angry to hear voters at other precincts may have been disenfranchised.

“We do not know how many people gave up trying to vote. And we don’t know what direction they would have voted. Anyone who lost should have the opportunity to challenge this election and frankly, I think it should be thrown out.”

The Paul Honeman campaign isn’t calling for the election to be thrown out yet. But they’re considering it. Mike Gutierrez is Honeman’s campaign manager. He says the campaign is still weighing the options:

“I don’t think that any option is off the table at this point. We’re going to have to figure out just how many folks were disenfranchised and what the appropriate course of action is going to be and of course, that decision is going to be up to Mr. Honeman, but at this point I would say there’s no option that’s off the table.”

With more than 97 percent of precincts reporting, Honeman is trailing incumbent Dan Sullivan by a wide margin. Honeman has 38 percent of the vote compared to 59 percent for Sullivan. But there are still outstanding absentee and questioned ballots. The city says it will spend the next week reviewing those ballots. Gutierrez says Honeman’s campaign has taken several calls from voters detailing problems with the election:

“That is very, very, very troubling and it really puts a cloud over the election and taints the election which is a shame because a lot of people did properly go out and exercise their right to vote and it muddies the water and that’s just unacceptable.”

Supporters of Proposition five haven’t conceded the race either, given the voting problems.

The proposition would have established equal rights for gay and transgender Alaskans. It is failing by a wide margin- 58 to 42 percent. The “yes on 5” campaign says it will monitor the process “until every vote has been counted and all concerns have been addressed.” The ACLU is also looking into the vote. They’ve created a hotline for voters to provide information regarding any issues they experienced. Gruenstien says there are still at lot of questions to be answered.

“We need to know how many more votes there are. Whether they’re questioned … and then the elections committee is going to have to go through every question ballot and verify it against the state voter registration because if people didn’t register 30 days prior to the election as an anchorage voter, their ballot will not count.”

Gruenstien says that could take weeks.