Lt. gov. loren leman pic
The state Division of Elections was awarded fast-track funds of $694,900 Tuesday by the Senate Finance Committee to help cover cost overruns from the 2004 election.
The fast-track label means the funding is expected to speed through the rest of the Alaska Legislature faster than usual.
Close to a third of the cost is a result of a court order last September directing the division to reprint 517,000 ballots because of biased summary language written by Lt. Gov. Loren Leman concerning an initiative requiring elections to fill U.S. Senate vacancies. Anchorage Superior Court Judge Morgan Christen determined that the four-sentence summary overestimated the amount of time a U.S. Senate seat would remain vacant while waiting for a special election.
Leman and Division of Elections Director Laura Glaiser said the cost overruns for the division totaled $805,300 and about $110,400 has been absorbed by the division.
Reprinting and redistributing the ballots cost the state $243,200, according to the division.
"The reprint didn't have to happen and in my opinion shouldn't have," Leman told the committee Tuesday. "With due respect to the third branch of government - she's wrong."
He said the division decided not to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court because of the rapidly approaching Nov. 2 election, adding that the changed wording probably didn't affect the outcome of the election. The initiative passed with almost 56 percent of the vote.
The request for supplemental funding isn't all negative, though, Leman said.
"Some of this, a good amount of it, represents success," Leman said.
He said the division processed 25,000 more votes last year than it did in the last statewide election, and a record 61,000 absentee ballots were requested. The division spent $304,000 hiring additional staff to handle the increased workload.
Glaiser said the state also spent $39,800 on recounts for the U.S. Senate race between former Gov. Tony Knowles and Sen. Lisa Murkowski and the House District 5 race between Democrat Tim June and Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines. The state collected $10,000 for the senate race and $750 for the House race because neither election was close enough to trigger an automatic recount. The money was deposited into the state general fund, Glaiser said.
Gov. Frank Murkowski has filed a bill in the Legislature that would increase the cost of a House recount to $10,000 and the cost of a statewide race to $50,000. The law has not been updated since 1986.
The $694,900 supplemental request also covers the cost of a $104,600 municipal bond election in Anchorage; $37,600 for legal counsel associated with the recall of former Sen. Scott Ogan; $22,100 for expedited forms and freight charges; $23,300 for computer mainframe use; and $11,700 to process faxed ballots.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.