Recount to cost state $40,000

Alaskans for Fair Elections paid $10,000, but Division of Elections says its not enough

Posted: Thursday, December 23, 2004

The recounts for Alaska's U.S. Senate contest and one state House race could end up costing the state up to $40,000, according to the state Division of Elections.

Representatives of Alaskans for Fair Elections said they requested the Senate recount because exit polls deviated from the outcome of the U.S. Senate race and they wanted to verify the accuracy of the ballot machines.

The recount cost $50,000 altogether.

State law required the group to pay $10,000 in five days, but some are questioning why the state should pay the balance for the recount. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski defeated Democrat Tony Knowles by more than 9,500 votes, according to preliminary totals tallied from the Nov. 2 election. That was about 3 percent of the 307,371 cast. The recount scarcely changed those numbers, or the totals in the House Distict 5 race, in which Haines Republican William Thomas beat Democrat Tim June by 76 votes.

The state pays recount costs if the difference between the two candidates is 20 votes or fewer or is less than 0.5 percent of the total number of the total votes cast.

The Knowles campaign was not involved in the recount effort.

Benjamin Brown, Southeast Alaska coordinator for the Murkowski campaign, said the state law requiring the $10,000 has not been changed in at least 18 years. The law provides that if the money is not used, the Division of Elections will refund the balance.

"The intent of the statute is that enough money is posted to cover the state's costs," Brown said. "There is a presumption that $10,000 is not only going to be enough but excessive."

Division of Elections Director Laura Glaiser said the numbers are preliminary but, she estimated that the state would pay $38,000 to hire more than 60 temporary employees, about $2,500 to transport ballots, $3,500 for security, $2,200 for facility rental, and about $3,000 to transport three elections supervisors to Juneau and pay their daily expenses.

The numbers will probably be finalized within the next couple of weeks, Glaiser said, adding, "If they change, they probably will go higher."

Joe Sonneman of Juneau, an organizer for Alaskans for Fair Elections, said the recount was important to verify the accuracy of voting machines that first were used in Alaska in 1998.

"To think that all this was able to happen was really a great thing for Democracy," Sonneman said.

Sonneman, an active strategist for the Alaska Democratic Party, said raising the $10,000 wasn't easy and finding another $40,000 in five days would have been impossible.

He said the recount proved that the Accu-vote technology worked properly, adding that new technology in the future that hasn't been proven accurate might trigger another recount request.

Brown said that all Alaskans benefit from knowing that the machines work, but the state should appropriate funds to test the machines before using them in a statewide election.

"I think that's a back-asswards way to do things," Brown said. "It shouldn't be done under the guise of a recount."

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