Municipal Leaders React to Election Commission Report

Municipal Leaders are reacting to a report by the Election Commission on the April 3rd Election. The Commission presented the report at a public meeting late Wednesday. It was critical of the clerk’s role in the election, but said it should be certified. KSKA’s Daysha Eaton has more.
In their report, the Anchorage Municipal Election Commission recommended the Assembly certify the April 3rd election without an independent investigation. The Commission also made several recommendations to improve future elections.  Municipal Clerk Barbara Gruenstien, admits her office contributed to the chaos on election night.
“The problems started with not having enough ballots of the right kind at the right places, and we need to make sure that that does not happen again.”
It was the clerk’s office’s responsibility to make sure there were adequate ballots for the election. The commission found that an insufficient number of ballots were distributed to the polling places before the election and that more than half the precincts ran out of ballots. But Gruenstein says the election night confusion wasn’t all the clerk’s offices fault, and that she was happy to hear that the commission recommend the allocation of additional resources for future elections.
“The Assembly staff has been cut about 40 percent in the 9 years I’ve been clerk and mostly you can handle that. But then when an election comes your main workload still goes through. And then you’ve got this overlay of responsibility. So, I think we need to look at allocation of resources.”
With some ‘hot button’ issues on the ballot, more people came out to vote than usual the Commission said by their count the number of voters on election night was about 71,000, more than the clerk’s office previously estimated. Gruenstien says the turnout was unprecedented by 1-thousand votes. One thing the commission did not address was the dizzying number of different ballot types used by Gruenstien’s count 34 kinds for different service areas in Anchorage.
“I don’t think we’ll ever have one ballot because of Eagle River and Girdwood and different distinctions. The lease we could have would be six, because we have six assembly districts.”
Gruenstein says reducing the number of ballots would help streamline future elections. She supports an independent investigation of the election. The Election commission says an independent investigation isn’t necessary.  But the ACLU of Alaska has been calling on the assembly to appoint an independent investigator for weeks. Assembly members have indicated support for an independent investigation, including Harriet Drummond. She says there are still too many questions regarding the integrity of the election to certify it.
“We often have such close elections in this town that I think that it’s more important to know that every vote was accurately counted and to know what the precise spreads were. I also think that there’s some unique situations with this one in that all the bond issues passed by huge margins. That never happens in this town. I see some blinders on here in this investigation process.”
Blinders, Drummond says to things like the accuracy of the acuvote machines,  which have been decommissioned by other states because they have been shown to be hackable. The Commission noted that there were technical problems with the machines, but gave no details in their report. The Commission will be doing random testing on the machines, but there’s no word yet when that will happen.  Assembly Chair Ernie Hall says the assembly is planning on appointing an independent investigator, but it may not happen before the election is certified:
“The third party investigation is not linked to the certification of the election. The certification of the election.”
The special meeting of the Assembly to consider certification of the election is set for Thursday May 3rd, exactly one month after the election took place.
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Daysha Eaton is the News Director at KBBI in Homer. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.