Anchorage Assembly to take public testimony on election code changes next week

Large white boxes that read "Vote by Mail Ballot Drop Box" sit in a warehouse.
Ballot drop boxes wait to be deployed in the Municipality of Anchorage Election Center on Jan. 14, 2021. (Photo by Kavitha George/AKPM)

The Anchorage Assembly will soon take public comment on an ordinance with proposed changes to the city’s election code. 

Among the changes is a registration period for election observers. Candidates for office and political organizations are allowed one poll watcher and one observer at polling locations and up to four observers at a return location — in Anchorage’s case, the election center.

Under the proposed changes, people wanting to register to be election observers would need to turn in a form between 62 and 32 days before a regular election, and between 37 and 22 days before a special election. Previously, there was no pre-registration.

At Tuesday night’s Assembly meeting, Mayor Dave Bronson said the changes would reduce election transparency.

“A close examination of these proposed changes shows that the public and candidates ability to observe the election process will be significantly restricted,” Bronson said.

Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance countered that, saying that the municipal clerk’s office takes up proposed election code changes every year. She said the recommended changes do not change how many election observers are allowed, nor does it change the times observers can be at the election center. 

“Nor does it the proposed ordinance change the requirement for observer training, the reasons why an observer may be asked to leave an election location, or the MOA election team’s commitment to ensuring that observers understand the election process and showing them all aspects of that process,” LaFrance said.

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

In a report sent out after the certification of Bronson’s victory in the mayoral runoff election in May, municipal clerks described “unprecedented harassment” from observers at the election center, including taking photos of election officials walking to their cars, threatening comments, and the spread of false elections information on blogs and talk radio programs. 

Other updates in the ordinance include changes to observer requirements and clarifying changes to the code’s language. 

The Assembly will take in-person public testimony on the ordinance at two meetings this month — one on December 14 and the second on December 21. 

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.

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