Election results should always reflect Alaska voters' intent

Posted: Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The following editorial first appeared in the Peninsula Clarion:

"All political power is inherent in the people. All government originates with the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the people as a whole."

-żArticle 1, Section 1.2 of the Constitution of the State of Alaska

It is with this thought in mind that we have watched the events of the past week unfold in Juneau, as the Division of Elections has counted more than 100,000 ballots on which Alaska voters chose to write in the name of a candidate not otherwise listed.

During the course of the count, and even before the Nov. 2 election, the issue of how to count write-in ballots, or more specifically, just what should be counted or not counted, became a topic of debate. Demands were made by all sides that the election be fair, that it have integrity.

We agree with those sentiments, but would point out one thing: the party to which the election must be fair is not any particular candidate, but the voters of the state of Alaska.

Joe Miller's campaign has filed a lawsuit challenging the Division of Election's use of discretion in counting write-in votes, and on Thursday sought an injunction to halt certification of the election. Miller maintains that the state should be held to the letter of the law, and should not be allowed to interpret a voter's intent if what is written on the ballot strays even the slightest from a declaration of candidacy or a write-in candidate's last name.

Yet the Division of Elections already is authorized to determine voter intent under current election law. Under the same heading that Miller has been citing, "General Procedure for Ballot Count," the statute reads if a mark is not entirely in an oval, but is placed in such a way "so as to indicate clearly that the voter intended the particular oval to be designated," the vote should be counted.

It is reasonable this same standard be applied when counting votes for write-in candidates. The intent to cast a vote for a candidate is more important than achieving technical perfection when casting that vote. If it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it should be counted as a duck.

It is incumbent upon the Division of Elections to act in the best interest of the voter, and in the case of this election, that means doing its best, when counting ballots, to determine voter intent -- as it has been since the hand count started. If an eligible voter makes a good faith effort to fill out a ballot, every effort should be made to count that vote, rather than looking for any technicality to toss it aside.

That standard should be applied to every candidate on every ballot, whether their name is printed on it and the oval isn't completely filled in, or a candidate's name must be written in. Anything less does indeed impugn the integrity of an election.

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