Unlawful voting sites investigated

Cruise ship association behind unapproved absentee polling places

Posted: Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Alaska Division of Elections has intervened in what was being reported as three unauthorized absentee voting sites in Denali National Park and Healy.

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Division Director Whitney Brewster said she was told earlier this week by an Aramark Corp. employee in Denali National Park that three absentee voter sites were being advertised in the region: Two at resorts run by Aramark and a third at a gas station in Healy.

The state's primary election is Tuesday.

A flyer advertised that "Absentee voting will be made available in the Denali/Healy area for all Alaska registered voters to vote in the Alaska state primary election."

That runs afoul of state law, Brewster said.

"Only the director of the Division of Elections can establish absentee voter sites. They were not established by me," Brewster said. "Obviously it is a great concern whenever there is any indication that someone is putting themselves between the Division of Elections and the voter."

Brewster said she traced the organizer to the NorthWest Cruise Ship Association's Alaska representative, Rod Pfleiger, who told her they weren't absentee voter sites. Pfleiger said he simply wanted to provide a fax machine for Aramark employees to send in absentee ballot applications to the division.

Brewster said she laid out for Pfleiger what the law allowed. The gas station site was shut down and the resorts' sites were moved into employee break rooms. The applications that were faxed to the division all seemed to check out, Brewster said.

"As of today, we don't get a sense that there was any malfeasance, but if there is any further indication of wrongdoing we will not hesitate to turn it over to the attorney general's office," Brewster said.

Pfleiger said he did not create the flyer that advertised the absentee voting sites. The event was meant to be only for Aramark employees, Pfleiger said, and not the general public.

"We didn't discuss any of the candidates or the issues on the ballot. We did not even see the ballot. All we talked about with the employees was a fax application that they faxed to the Division of Elections," Pfleiger said.

Steve Cleary of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group questioned whether this was an attempt at election tampering by an association that has spent a lot of money to defeat an initiative on Tuesday's ballot.

The NorthWest Cruise Ship Association has spent more than $1.1 million to fight the ballot measure to put a $50-per-passenger tax on Alaska's cruise ships.

"If this was just for their employees, that's one thing, but if it becomes public, that's where a change occurs and where higher scrutiny needs to be maintained," Cleary said.

Pfleiger noted again that these weren't actual polling places, but places set up to give Aramark employees who missed their chance to mail in absentee ballot applications to fax them in.

"Supporting employees and registered voters in the state of Alaska to exercise their right to vote should be applauded by people and not scrutizined or criticized," he said.

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