State election officials have wrapped up their vote-counting from last month’s primary. Now, they’re preparing to move on to the general election.
But Alaska’s political world can’t stop talking about the results in one particular state House district, in East Anchorage. Questions are swirling about one of the candidates, Republican Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, and a political consultant she hired to help her get-out-the-vote in the district’s Hmong community.
Elections officials say they’ve asked prosecutors to investigate evidence of voter fraud, including seven absentee ballots requested in the names of dead people. The state also says it has suspicions about 26 more absentee ballots — all 26 of which were votes for LeDoux.
But they’ve released few other details, like the names of those voters, which makes it difficult to determine who could be responsible.
To Republicans, who are trying to get rid of LeDoux because she caucuses with Democrats, it’s still an easy game of connect-the-dots.
“All signs point to the one person who benefits from the fraud, which is Gabrielle LeDoux,” Alaska GOP chairman Tuckerman Babcock said.
But LeDoux said it’s too early to draw conclusions.
“I do not understand what’s happening at this point,” LeDoux said. She added that she’s looking forward to state prosecutors finishing an investigation of the “irregularities” identified by elections officials.
Beyond the numbers themselves, Republicans are also posing quesitons about LeDoux’s political consultant from California, Charlie Chang.
Chang didn’t respond to requests for comment. But LeDoux agreed to talk about him. She said a friend put her in touch with Chang nearly a decade ago. That was when she was first running for office in Anchorage and wanted help getting out the Hmong vote in her district.
“I talked to him on the phone and he knew all sorts of things. You can tell when somebody’s asking you: ‘Do they have absentees? Early voting in Alaska?’” LeDoux said. “Seemed like he really knew what he was doing, and he had relatives here so I thought, ‘Okay, let’s bring him up.’”
Since then, LeDoux said she’s become friends with Chang and visits him and his wife annually for a Hmong New Year’s festival.
This year, LeDoux flew Chang up to Alaska twice, once with his wife, and paid him more than $10,000. She said she told Chang to cross his T’s and dot his I’s, because the election was going to be closely watched. But she also said it wasn’t her responsibility to keep track of Chang’s every move.
“I can’t be doing day-to-day monitoring,” LeDoux said. “All I can say is, I had no reason to believe that there was anything illegal or improper going on.”
LeDoux said Chang was responsible for helping her turn out Hmong votes both in-person on Election Day, and by absentee ballot.
A quick refresher: The Hmong are an ethnic group from Asia, some of whom fled to the U.S. during the Vietnam War era. LeDoux has a whole section of her re-election page devoted to Hmong issues.
The Republicans targeting LeDoux say they’re skeptical about more than 30 absentee ballots issued to people with Hmong names in two different mobile homes off Muldoon Road. A man named Charlie Chang mailed in an absentee ballot from one of them, as did eleven other Changs registered at the same place.
“The number of people who applied to vote from different trailers is preposterous on its face,” Babcock said.
But Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski, who represents the same area, said people should be cautious about drawing conclusions based on the numbers alone. Two or three generations of the same Hmong family can sometimes live in the same household.
“One of the first meetings I had with members of the Hmong community was when I went to someone’s trailer and there were literally, probably, 40 or 50 people at this meeting in a little trailer,” Wielechowski said. “They have trailers where they have a lot of people living in them. That is not uncommon.”
Then there are Alaska’s voting laws, which Wielechowski described as relatively permissive. In Alaska, the law allows people to vote absentee even after they move out of state, as long as they intend to come back at some point.
That’s how Dan Sullivan, who’s now a U.S. senator, voted in the Alaska election in 2008, when was working as a top State Department official. Sullivan lived in Maryland and declared his home there as his principal residence for tax purposes. But he still voted absentee in Alaska.
“There are many people that move out of state to go to college. There are many people that move out of state to take care of sick parents. And they still maintain their addresses here and they still vote in the state of Alaska,” Wielechowski said. “If we’re going to have this conversation, let’s not just limit it to the Hmong.”
The elections division has referred its suspicions about “irregularities” with the House race to state prosecutors for investigation — a process that could take months. Meanwhile, a Republican write-in candidate, Jake Sloan, announced Tuesday that he’s challenging LeDoux in the general election.