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Report recommends changes to state election laws

Lieutenant governor’s report recommends changes to law, regulations

Posted: April 2, 2011 - 10:10pm

Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell is recommending dozens of changes to state election law following last year’s disputed write-in election battle for a U.S. Senate seat.

None of the changes to election law or regulations would have changed the outcome, Treadwell said, and many conform Alaska election law to existing court rulings that guided the outcome of that election.

Some were recommended by a judge who heard Republican senatorial nominee Joe Miller’s challenge to write-in candidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s eventual election victory.

The report’s most important conclusion is that the election process was handled appropriately despite the lack of laws addressing key aspects of how such an election needed to be handled.

“None of the changes we’re recommending today would have changed the result of the 2010 election,” Treadwell said at a Friday press conference announcing the report.

The most prominent recommendation is that state law should codify that the voter intent should prevail in deciding write-in ballots, and minor misspellings or unusual formats should be disregarded.

That’s the standard that was used by Elections Director Gail Fenumiai and upheld by the courts, but was challenged by Miller.

Miller spokesman Randy DeSoto said the standard that will be used to determine voter intent must still be determined.

“While we understand the motivation for adopting voter intent as the law, its application remains problematic (including a failure to inspire public confidence) without clear guidelines,” he said.

The report also recommended a number of changes to help military personnel vote.

That may include a polling place on a military base and changing how ballots can be accepted.

Currently, ballots can be accepted by fax, but not by email.

An Alaska-based soldier at a forward base in Afghanistan didn’t have access to a scanner and could have emailed a scanned ballot back home.

“They did go to war with a scanner, but not a fax machine,” Treadwell said.

Eventually, the ballot was emailed to a U.S. base in Italy, where it was printed and faxed to Alaska, but Treadwell said he wanted a process that was simpler for the military.

“We are certainly pleased the Lieutenant Governor wants to better facilitate our military personnel serving in state and overseas being able to vote,” DeSoto said.

The report found no problems with ballot security or illegal felon voting, two accusations the Miller campaign made, but recommended process improvements there as well. DeSoto said the Miller campaign supported those changes as well.

The report also recommends that write-in vote counts happen in Juneau. State law already requires recounts be done in Juneau, and Fenumiai relied on that when she decided that the write-in count be conducted in Juneau. That’s where all ballot are automatically sent after elections anyway.

Treadwell said that it was too late in the legislative session for a new bill to be introduced by the governor, but the administration supported an existing bill by Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks, that sets write-in voting standards.

Thomas’ Senate Bill 178 has already passed the Senate but has been held in the House awaiting Treadwell’s report. It is now scheduled for hearings in the House State Affairs and Judiciary Committees next week.

Many of Treadwell’s recommendations go well beyond Thomas’ bill, but he said they could be amended into his bill or placed in another bill.

“A lot of the things they’ve recommended, they make sense to me, “ Thomas said.

While the report didn’t find errors in the conduct of the write-in election, it did find that there were numerous places where procedures had to be developed on the fly that should have been developed before the heated write-in election took place.

“When an election contest does occur, it puts everything under a microscope,” Treadwell acknowledged.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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