Alaska Digest

Posted: Sunday, October 31, 2004

Lack of postage holds up absentee ballots

ANCHORAGE - Nearly 2,500 absentee ballots were held up a day at a Juneau post office because the state Division of Elections underestimated the cost of postage, according to postal officials.

A record number of voters sought absentee ballots this year and many still were waiting as of last week.

Elections officials in Juneau could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Workers brought in two batches of ballots around 5:15 p.m. Thursday to Juneau's Mendenhall Post Office, about a half-mile from the airport, where all bulk mail is processed, Juneau Postmaster Kent Eriksen said.

But the Elections Division underestimated how many ballots there were and how much the mailing would cost, he said.

Postal clerk John Zahasky said he could not contact anyone at the division after hours. He and his supervisor agreed to hold the ballots to make sure the division would cover the higher cost.

The division underestimated the ballots by 1,041 and the price by $910.37, Zahasky said. The actual cost was $1,827.97. The post office allows a margin of error of 1 percent.

Absentee ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday. They have 10 days to arrive at the Division of Elections from within the United States and 15 days if they are from overseas.

Elections officials have been advising voters worried about their ballots to request a fax ballot, which can be done through the division Web site. There's been a turnaround of 36 hours or longer for those ballots to be sent to voters once the request is in hand.

If people vote by fax and then receive a by-mail absentee ballot, they should destroy the latter, according to the Elections Division. Voting twice is a felony.

Juneau dial-up ills reportedly repaired

JUNEAU - Service for America Online's Juneau customers who dial a number to access the Internet should be back to normal, according to a GCI spokesman.

David Morris said AOL replaced a piece of equipment it owns at a GCI station on Thane Road early Friday. Failure of the modem shelf, which switches callers to the Internet-access number over to the Internet, left AOL's Juneau dial-up customers unable to go online last week.

GCI had no information on the number of AOL customers in Juneau.

Murkowski declares Nome area a disaster

NOME - A state declaration of disaster was issued Friday for the Northwest Arctic Borough, the Bering Strait Regional Education Attendance Area and the village of Mekoryuk, all heavily damaged by storms that have pounded the area this month.

"The devastation visited on families in these regions is extensive and, unfortunately, ongoing," Gov. Frank Murkowski said in Nome.

The state will now seek a federal disaster declaration so that the Federal Emergency Management Agency can provide additional help.

Damage in Nome is estimated at $5.4 million. Damages elsewhere are being tallied.

On Oct. 19, dozens of Nome businesses and homes were evacuated when a powerful storm flooded downtown streets, damaged roads and buildings, and knocked loose huge propane tanks, spraying flammable gas. Twenty-foot waves poured over the city's protective seawall. Wind gusts of up to 60 mph were reported.

The storm swept across communities from Shishmaref to Shaktoolik, eroding bluffs and exposing septic tanks and water lines. In Shishmaref, a teachers housing triplex is hanging over a bluff face and the community has lost as many as 52 feet of shoreline.

Stevens reverses stance on tribal regionalization

ANCHORAGE - U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens says he's abandoning his call to consolidate federal funding to Alaska Native tribes, saying regionalization is happening on its own.

"I'm not going to use the term 'regionalization' any more," Stevens said in a speech to the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage on Thursday. "It's going on already."

For several years, Stevens, R-Alaska, has said he was displeased with the system of funding services for Alaska's federally recognized tribes. Too much money goes to administration, he says.

He proposed reducing the number of tribes - estimated at 230 - or funding them through regional organizations.

Many tribal members saw the proposal as an attack on sovereignty. Tribal leaders have said the current system of providing services - from child protection to job training, village police officers and tribal courts - is the most cost-efficient way. They say the tribes are providing services that the state cannot or will not.

Stevens said he changed his mind on a recent swing through Western Alaska. In Barrow, Kotzebue, Bethel and elsewhere, he watched tribes, village governments, corporations and the state working together to deliver crucial services.

"I'm glad he stated that," said Myron Naneng, president of the Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents, which represents more than 50 villages on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. "He finally saw what people in the villages have been seeing a long time," that the tribes are an integral part of providing village services.

Some convention delegates questioned the timing of the announcement. Stevens has been stumping for fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in her campaign to keep her seat against Democratic challenger Tony Knowles in the Nov. 2 election. Most of Stevens' speech on Thursday was dedicated to Murkowski.

Knowles has strong support among Alaska Natives and both candidates are courting the Native vote.

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