Anchorage’s Election Disaster Goes to the Assembly
~Lennie Moren and Jane Darden speak volumes at the Assembly meeting
By Jeanne Devon and Linda Kellen Biegel
First things first. If you have not yet signed the online petition asking the Anchorage Assembly to call for a fair and independent audit of the Anchorage election of April 3, 2012, then please do so HERE. It will give you the option to share it on Facebook, to your email list, and on Twitter. You are encouraged to do so.
Tuesday Night at the Fights (aka the Anchorage Assembly meeting) was important this week. This was one of only two meetings that will occur between the April 3 Municipal election debacle, and the day the vote is to be certified or not – April 17. All sorts of media was present – KTUU, the Daily News, the Alaska Dispatch, The Mudflats crew, and Mel Green of Bent Alaska (who posted a great comprehensive piece HERE).
Tuesday afternoon, Jeff Mittman the Executive Director of the Alaska ACLU held a press conference, and released documents to the media, including sworn affadavits from voters, and poll workers detailing their stories from election day.
Rhonda Matthews’ affadavit tells a story like many others.
“At approximately 7:10am, I arrived at Klatt Elementary School, and after exiting my car I was approached by a woman who asked if I was here to vote or to pick up a child. I told her that I was here to vote and she told me that I was unable to because there were no more ballots. I told her that it was my right to vote and she gave me several other locations I could go to; the only place that I distinctly remember is The Alaska Club.
I went to the Alaska Club on O’Malley and arrived there about 7:30pm. When I arrived I noticed the parking lot was very crowded. And that some people were exiting the building that appeared to be quite frustrated. I went in side and when I got to the voting table I told the poll employee that I was from Klatt Elementary and had been sent to this location. I was told that I couldn’t vote there but didn’t specify why. They told me that I could vote at the airport.
I left the Alaska Club at about 7:45pm. I did not believe that I would be able to make it to the airport on time. I decided to go home from the Alaska Club and was not able to vote.”
The ACLU, who was involved in the Yes on 5 campaign, called on the Assembly to retain independent counsel to investigate voting irregularities, and voter disenfranchisement.
In the first 7 days since the election, the ACLU has received more than 150 calls to its voter hotline, and 19 emails from voters who experienced problems at their polling places.
The Assembly meeting began with an apology from Assembly Chair Debbie Ossiander who reviewed some of the election problems, but did not mention the premeditated misinformation email from Jim Minnery of the Alaska Family Council which told people they could register and vote in the same day at any polling place they wished. In an obvious attempt to cause confusion, Minnery’s email resulted in over 120 people trying to register at the polls on election day, and the usage by already registered voters of an untold number of “questioned” ballots filled out at polling places across the city by out-of-precinct residents, or those from areas not even allowed to vote in Anchorage.
Ossiander: Mr. Hall and I, earlier this week, met with Mr. Wheeler, the Municipal Attorney, and Ms. Tucker, the Assembly Attorney to ask [the question] even if we are not required potentially to hold a special election, what parameters govern this body if we do want to call one. Our Municipal Code, Title 28, is silent on this point….
Some of the questions that I believe we still need to ask and clarify is how many ballots were actually delivered to each precinct; since ballots were available, why weren’t they delivered to polling places before polls closed; were election workers trained on what to do if they ran out of election materials, and, if so, what were they told – if not what should they be told in the future….
The certification vote and the election commission report are currently scheduled for our next meeting on the 17th, but, again, I want to emphasize I do not believe we should certify the election until we are satisfied that we understand what happened this year and what its impact was….
Ossiander went on to say she “deeply regretted” the way things went, and that as long as she was a member of the Assembly, it would never happen again. It was supposed to make us feel better.
Then Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson had a few words of her own, which promised interesting things to come as the evening progressed.
Assembly member Harriet Drummond reminded everyone she is Chair of the Assembly Ethics and Elections Committee which, she noted, has not been a particularly popular committee until recently. She stated her concerns, the need for reform, and pointed out that paper is cheap. “For a few thousand extra sheets of paper,” she said, none of this would be happening.
“One of the issues that’s come up is that there is an Assembly Election Ethics committee of which I am listed as Chair. This committee has not done a whole lot since I have been listed as Chair. However, we’re facing the need to do a whole lot of work post-mortem to this fiasco. The Assembly Elections and Ethics committee reviews both the Election Code (that’s Title 28 that the Chair referred to) and the Ethics Code for clarity. It may develop and recommend changes in coordination with concerns of the general public, the Election Commission, Office of the Municipal Clerk, and the Board of Ethics… We need to learn what went wrong, what could have been done better, what improvements could be put in place for next time, changes in code to Title 28 and wherever else is required, other code reinforcements, new code, procedural and policy changes, financial support of the election process in staff, in training, in printing.
And I might remind this body that paper is cheap. Paper turned out to be the core of the issue in this election. For a few thousand more sheets of paper we would not have had this issue, and we seriously have a problem if we can’t print a few more sheets of paper, and have them be available where they need to be available.
…we know that every year at this time, this city holds an election. The number of voters doesn’t change that much. We should be able to be prepared to hold a proper election in which every vote counts and in which every voter can vote. If I continue as Chair of the Elections and Ethics Committee, I guarantee you these changes will be made so that this does not happen again.
Eagle River’s Bill Starr suddenly piped up and said something about thinking that Ms. Drummond had resigned from that committee, and that he would happily step up and volunteer to chair it. Fortunately that got all the consideration it deserved – none. There was an audible mumble from the audience at the thought of that prospect.
Elvi Gray-Jackson then put a resolution on the table that would allow the Assembly to hire independent counsel to look into the matter, and try to come up with some answers.
First, I’d like to say thanks to the many folks in our community who sent emails to all of us, expressing your concerns regarding the election, and also about whether the Assembly, who is responsible for elections, should hire an independent counsel. As you all know, we received two extensive letters from the ACLU. The first one was compelling, and the one we received this afternoon was even more compelling – so compelling that I thought I needed to do something about it. And so, I’m bringing forward this evening a resolution to ask my colleagues to approve hiring an independent counsel to review the situation. The Municipal Attorney (Dennis Wheeler) is currently reviewing the situation – investigating it – and it doesn’t matter who the Municipal Attorney is, I think it is inappropriate for the Municipal Attorney to do the investigation on this issue.
I know that there are two concerns that all of us have, and the first concern is what does the charter approve, and what it is we need to do regarding the situation. What does the law require, and what does the law allow? Because of these two very important questions we need to have legal assessment on this issue that is fair. With that said, Madame Chair, I really hope that you and the rest of my colleagues recognize the importance of hiring independent counsel and will vote for this resolution. Thank you, Madame Chair.
Ms. Gray-Jackson brought up an issue that really should be a no-brainer – the fact that the Municipal attorney, who serves at the pleasure of one of the candidates in this election, isn’t really the right guy to do the investigating.
~Dennis Wheeler, Municipal Attorney
Jennifer Johnston of South Anchorage spoke up and expressed reservations about moving to quickly, and said that she’d like to wait until after the work session that the Assembly had scheduled for Friday before she’d decide what to do. Ernie Hall was next, and got the award for the most bizarre and twisted rationale for not hiring an independent counsel.
Get a load of this.
“I think we’re going to get a chance to ask some very pointed questions on Friday. The other thing that’s quite honestly, personally is an issue for me here, is, you know, the people in my district voted to elect me to deal with issues like this and quite honestly I feel that I’m not standing up to my responsibility when things get tough, that I look to a third party to come in and give me directions, so that should it not work out in the way that it should in regards to a third party I still am the one who has to have the responsibility, and I’m not willing to let that responsibility go at this time myself.”
Since we’re quite honestly talking about honestly how we feel, quite honestly, I think we need to get directions from a third party to bring us back to reality. Ms. Gray-Jackson? You have the floor.
“Because we are attempting to do the right thing by getting outside counsel,” Gray-Jackson said, addressing Hall, “by no means, means we are shirking our responsibility. None of us are lawyers, at least the last time I looked.” She then called Jeff Mittman of the ACLU to testify before the body. The audience erupted in loud applause.
~Ernie Hall has a discussion with a constituent during the recess
Dick Traini then asked Jeff Mittman what the law requires, and what the law allows.
“At this point we are unable to determine whether the law requires a special election. We are unable to determine that. And again, that goes to why we are recommending the retention of an independent counsel. A significant factual question that must be established is would the votes of the voters who were disenfranchised change the outcome of the election. There are two pieces of information, as the Chair has pointed out. One piece is – what is the vote differential? And I appreciate that the Chair of the Assembly, with the Clerk’s office and the Election Commission are working very carefully to determine that first fact. The second fact, that would be unknowable absent the appointment of a special counsel is what would the disenfranchised votes have been? If this were one or two precincts, I think this would be a relatively easier task to determine the scope of the disenfranchisement. Given fifty-five precinct places without ballots, we cannot answer that question. And I don’t think anyone would be able to answer that question without the commission of significant resources to determining that scope.”
Traini thanked Mittman, but went on to say that he wanted to wait for the report from the Election Commission, and that the Assembly would be able to call for a new election. He thanked Gray-Jackson for the resolution, but said “not today.”
Mittman noted that the Election Commission’s job was to deal with the votes that had been cast, not to deal with the votes that were not able to be cast, and why. But nobody seemed to get that part.
The resolution was voted on and went down 7-4.
Yeas were: Gray-Jackson, Drummond, Honeman, Flynn
Nays were: Ossiander, Hall, Starr, Birch, Johnston, Traini, Trombley
~Jeff Mittman and Dick Traini during a recess
After hours of dealing with other issues, public comment was taken at the end of the meeeting. Ossiander even had to call for an extension of time to go past 11:00pm, which allowed the last two speakers to give comment.
It was in these last minutes of the meeting that the most jaw-dropping testimony of the night was heard from election worker Susan Bretz.
4:56:00 on the Assembly video HERE.
Hi, my name is Susan Bretz. I also am an election worker. I worked at Precinct 330 at Nunaka Valley. In the morning when we came in and were setting up, I work the register so I’m getting everything together and they handed me the stack of ballots and set it down beside me. I was, like, where are the rest of them? It was significantly fewer ballots than we’ve ever had before. We have 2012 people registered in our precinct to vote. I’ve worked at the same precinct for almost four years so I kind of got used to how many people come and we’ve had over 500 people show up a couple of times, not always but a couple of times. They gave us 475 ballots to start with.
When our troubleshooter came by in the morning we mentioned, “Hey, this doesn’t look like it’s going to be enough. She said, “Oh, call me and let me know and I’ll get you more if we need more later.” So, she knew in the morning.
By 5:00 we knew for sure that we were going to run out; we had about 55-60 ballots left. We called her and said, “OK, we are running low, we’re getting ready for the evening rush. We need some more ballots.” We were also running low on Questioned Ballot forms which, for us, it’s normal to go through 25 or so because we are at a school so we have a lot of the teachers routinely come in and vote Questioned Ballots at our precinct.
When she came to bring us the Questioned Ballot envelopes, she saw that we still had a little over 50 ballots left and she said, “Oh, I need some of those, one of the other precincts is out.” She took 25 of our ballots from us to give to another precinct. So, when we started out we only had 23.6% of our ballots for our people. That dropped us even lower.
5:30 we were almost completely out. We’re calling her back, saying, “We need ballots. We’re down to the last few. We need ballots, now!” She told us, “I don’t think I can get you any more.” We called her back at about 6:00, “We’re completely out of ballots, now what do we do?”
“I don’t have any more ballots to give you. Send them to either UAA or to the Airport where they can vote absentee.” Those were the directions we were given.
It turned into a hellacious evening. It was not fun. We had a lot of very angry people.
Most of the people got back in their cars. We gave them directions on how to get to another polling place and they got there. I don’t know if they all got to vote or not but I know we gave them directions on where to go.
Assembly Chair Debbie Ossiander: Does the book give you another person to call…
Susan Bretz: I was getting there…
Ossiander: OK, sorry…
Bretz: We tried calling the Municipal Clerk’s Office. I’m not the [Precinct] Chairperson. Our Chairperson was trying to do that…could not get through…kept hanging up. You know you’d punch the numbers and than it would say, “Goodbye.” So she asked me to try from my cell phone also. I got through at 7:21. She finally talked to somebody and we were told that, “I don’t think we have anymore ballots for you. Keep sending them to UAA.” That’s where we were told to send people because it was getting close to 8:00.
At 7:45, two people came in with a stack of 125 ballots for us. If we had been told at the beginning that we had ballots but it was going to be awhile, “tell people to wait but we’ll get them to you,” that would have been enough to cover all of the people who came to our precinct because we only had about 70 people who came between that time frame. But, when they came at 7:45 most people, we had already sent them on to somewhere else. We were only able to use 17 of those ballots…we had 17 people vote in those last few minutes. We ended up with 108 ballots that did not get voted because we didn’t know they were coming.
I don’t know where things fell apart. I keep hearing that there were supposed to be 70% of the ballots and we didn’t have anywhere close to that.
Ossiander: Mr. Honeman you had a question.
Assemblyman Paul Honeman: First of all I want to thank your investment of your time in doing the polling. It’s really a significant investment of your time and helps the community. Did, by chance, anyone take a list of people? If they didn’t have a ballot there was no way of knowing who you turned away, right? Did anyone keep a name list…at least that?
Bretz: We started getting a list near the end when we were getting down to where there wasn’t time for people to go. Cause everybody that I talked to said that, “OK, we’re just going to go to UAA,” and got back in their cars and they left. We started getting a list and when we got the ballots we called everyone on that list and said, “We’ve got ballots.” If they’d already voted, they didn’t come back to us but we did have several people who came back and voted at that point. I believe that list was turned in with all of our ballots when we brought them back at the ned of the night.
Ossiander: Mr. Starr…
Assemblyman Bill Starr: When the worker brought the ballots, did you get the same instruction about don’t have them sign the register?
Bretz: What we were told was if they were on the register have them sign the register as normal. The ballots would not be readable by machine so we put those into the emergency slot. And then at the end of the night, there’s a special envelope that you put those ballots that couldn’t be read by the machine. We put those in there and those were turned in separately. We did have a couple of people that were precinct hopping. They had tried other places and they just happened to get to us when they had those ballots. So, those we had fill out the Questioned Ballot forms for those.
Starr: The other supplies, which I think you just said, the other supplies…the envelope to put the Questioned ballot and fill out on the outside…did you have enough of those for your duration or did you use all those up?
Bretz: We went through our first batch of 25 and they did bring us some additional ones which we did not use all of those.
Starr: Thank you.
Ossiander: Mr. Traini…
Assemblyman Dick Traini: (Off-mic and barely audible…asked if they used sample ballots at their precinct)
Bretz: No, I wish we’d thought of that. Nobody told us to.
Ossiander: Did your election chair submit a written summary of what occurred during…
Bretz: I don’t know if she did or not. I know we talked about it but I don’t know if she did.
Ossiander: That’s one thing I’m finding is, apparantly, not every election chair submitted the written comments.
Bretz: I wrote up a timeline of…
Ossiander: Could you ask the Chair if she has, if you don’t mind?
Municipal Clerk Barbara Gruenstein: (Off-mic…asked for her timeline)
Ossiander: …and we need that timeline…
Bretz: If you’d like the one I’ve got I can give it to you.
Ossiander: That would be helpful, thank you.
Ossiander: Thank you for coming.
Remember, this was one polling place out of fifty-five that ran out of ballots. This is one person out of more than a hundred fifty who came forward so far. And this only covers some of the many problems faced by election workers, and voters last Tuesday night.
We need a special election, and we need to do it right. It is a matter of common sense at this point to realize that we can never know the extent of the disenfranchisement, and the improper ballots. We can spend a great deal of time, money and resources – or we can simply do the right thing and do it again.