Anchorage clerk reports ‘unprecedented harassment’ of election workers during mayoral runoff

The Anchorage municipal clerk says there was “unprecedented harassment of election officials” during the mayoral runoff.

Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones presented the report on the recent election to the Anchorage Assembly Tuesday.

The 17-page document does not say whether harassment came from supporters of a particular campaign. Jones declined to comment further on the details of the report, writing in an email that it “speaks for itself.”

In the report, Jones described a contentious atmosphere at the city’s polling locations and election center as ballots were being processed earlier this month. This included “intense scrutiny of the election (and) the dissemination of disinformation to sow distrust among voters,” the report said.

Tensions ran high during the Anchorage mayoral runoff election, as two campaigns pushed for candidates on opposite ends of the political spectrum, Dave Bronson, a conservative, and Forrest Dunbar, a progressive. There was name-calling and allegations of campaign finance violations. 

The clerk reported a similarly contentious atmosphere at the city’s polling locations and election center as ballots were being processed earlier this month. This included “intense scrutiny of the election (and) the dissemination of disinformation to sow distrust among voters,” the report said.

While the clerk’s report described a successful vote-by-mail election run by a small team of election workers and officials with record-breaking turnout — more than 90,000 ballots, or 38% turnout among registered voters. 

The clerk also wrote that some campaign observers came to watch ballot processing with seemingly little understanding of how the process works and interfered with the election team doing its job.

“While we want people to come watch what we do, at times the observers acted in ways that seemed more aimed towards intimidating election officials rather than observing the process,” said the report.

An older white woman wearing glasses and a striped shirt sits outdoors.
Anchorage resident Bonnie Jack has been an election worker for decades. (Photo courtesy Bonnie Jack)

Bonnie Jack, who has worked in elections for decades, said the atmosphere this year was “extremely different.”

“It was tense. It was a definitely “them versus us.” I’ve never seen that kind of atmosphere. I’ve never received that kind of feeling before in any elections.”

Jack led a team tasked with opening ballot envelopes. She said observers often asked “accusatory questions” that seemed to assume the workers were doing something wrong.

“Some of the observers came in with a negative attitude,” she said. “They don’t like the mail-in process, so they want to find fault with it.”

Retired commercial and Air Force pilot Bronson won the May 11 runoff election against Army National Guard captain and East Anchorage Assembly member Dunbar by about 1,200 votes.

RELATED: Dunbar concedes in race for Anchorage mayor

The clerk also reported members of the public taking photographs of election workers and writing down license plate numbers. The report referenced “inaccurate and false statements” about the election process spread on social media, online and on talk radio, including one post on social media that said election officials “should be publicly executed.”

Campaigns are each allowed four observers in the elections center at a time and are expected to train the observers on election procedures ahead of time. The clerk’s report said the city will take over training observers in the future.

RELATED: Mayor-elect Bronson names transition team, hints at plans for Anchorage