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More than 50 Anchorage precincts ran out of ballots

Posted: April 7, 2012 - 11:12pm

ANCHORAGE — A city review of this week’s Anchorage election shows that nearly half of the 121 voting precincts ran out of preprinted ballots at some point.

Late Friday, the city clerk’s office said it had finished a preliminary review of all the precincts. It found that 55 of the 121 experienced ballot shortages in Tuesday’s election.

In addition, nearly 6,100 questioned ballots were cast, compared with about 1,000 in last year’s election. Most of the questioned ballots were cast before ballot shortages occurred. Questioned ballots are issued if a voter lacks identification, is not on the registry, has moved within the past 30 days or is voting in a place other than a home precinct.

The clerk’s office says more than 1,400 additional unscanned ballots were cast. In those cases, the voter signed the register, but used a ballot that could not be scanned by machine. Those are not questioned ballots.

Mayor Dan Sullivan easily won re-election Tuesday. A heavily debated gay rights measure was rejected.

Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, is calling for a special counsel to investigate the election problem.

Anchorage Assembly Chairwoman Debby Ossiander said it is too early to begin an independent probe. She said the city clerk and six-member Election Commission need time to review first.

The clerk’s office said the Election Commission will work Saturday, verifying the status of questioned ballots.

Voters rejected a gay rights measure seeking to extend municipal protections against discrimination based on race, sex, religion, marital status and other factors to include sexual orientation and transgender identity. The proposal was supported by the ACLU, with the group contributing $10,000 to the effort.

The city clerk’s office and the ACLU want to hear from people who had problems voting.

City Clerk Barbara Gruenstein said the city printed almost 143,000 ballots, but large numbers of people crossed precinct boundaries to vote, causing some polling stations to run short when others had many.

People who are not on the voter roll for a given precinct can vote there with a questioned ballot, under city code. The city’s Election Commission determines whether votes cast on such ballots are valid.

Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler is investigating the election.

Mittman said that is inappropriate because Wheeler works directly for Sullivan, who was re-elected with more than 59 percent of the ballots counted.

Under the city charter, the Election Commission is responsible for investigating elections.

The public might not accept the results if the city clerk or city attorney do their own review and find no serious problems, Mittman said. It would be better for a former state attorney or retired judge to be in charge, he said.

Mittman said there is “credible evidence of significant problems,” based on phone calls to the ACLU.

Wheeler said the contests on Tuesday’s ballots appear to have been decided by wide margins, meaning a new election probably isn’t justified.

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