Uncounted Ballots: A New Can Of Worms
It’s a kind of migraine-inducing, bone-aching, paralysis-producing exhaustion that I’ve rarely experienced.
I know that’s how I felt after our team of 10 qualified voters and fabulous volunteer observers worked their butts off on the hand recount. The team “observed” and went above and beyond to report the issues and the craziness that happened during this hand recount. However, they did not stop there. The Team also poured (and continues to pour) time and energy into further investigation of the election issues in general, going way-beyond their “job description” to try and unravel the chaos.
Until Friday, many of us had made peace with the fact that while our work helped convince the Anchorage Assembly that there needed to be significant changes in the election procedure, no one was going to answer our repeated requests for a thorough audit nor would we ever know what really happened without one. We had to satisfy ourselves with the realization that we will continue to influence Municipal Elections in the future.
But that doesn’t mean the work left undone by the Municipality doesn’t still stick in my craw.
All of us were clear when we met with the Assembly that we had nothing to show of any foul play and not enough incompetance to change the election. Of course, we did find a lot of incompetance.
“1) Improper ballot handling from initial orders through the counting process resulted in missing ballots, uncounted ballots, and erroneous ballots.”
[That's an overview but it gives you a pretty good idea. Even the invoices and the signed-ballot lists are either completely screwed up or don't jive with each other...it was a bloody mess.]
“2) The numbers don’t match.”
[This meant that none of the officially generated ballot and voting reports from the Municipality of Anchorage matched with each other...absolutely none of them.]
“3) High rate of inaccuracy during ballot count.”
[No consistent procudure or policy regarding recounts.]
“4) There was a lack of established, consistent procedures and training.”
[Few consistent procedure or policy regarding elections in general.]
And last but certainly not least…
“5) The recount was never completed because the absentee and Questioned Ballots were never counted, in direct violation of Title 28. Nor did the Municipality conduct anything like an audit of the 15 precincts which was requested in the Recount Application.”
Last Wednesday (though it was held back until Friday AFTER everyone went home) we saw something that, you must admit, looks a bit like it could potentially be foul play — at least it sure looks like the foul play I’ve always seen in the movies:
“In a joint prepared statement emailed to news outlets at 6:30 p.m. Friday, long after City Hall shut down for the weekend, Assembly Chair Ernie Hall and new Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones said the ballots were found in sealed bags on Wednesday.”
I have no words to describe what happened to my stomach when I read that.
Later in the piece by Richard Mauer, we learn first why it took so long:
“In an interview Friday night, Hall said he didn’t want to notify the media about the discovery Wednesday because there were still more sealed bags in the city’s vault to inspect. That inspection was concluded Thursday.
“We wanted to make sure that we had everything done,” Hall said. “I only wanted to do one release. I wanted to make sure there was nothing in any other bag, anyplace.”
He and Jones further delayed notification till Friday evening because it took that much time to prepare the statement and an accompanying inventory check list, he said.”
And then, my favorite line:
“Would I like to have just said, ‘Well, let’s just ignore it and nobody will ever know?’ That was never even an option with this election,” Hall said.
“…with this election…” While I’m fairly certain that was a misspeak on Chairman Hall’s part, it does make one wryly wonder what options were open for any election other than “this one.”
The article describes the “potentially uncounted” ballots:
“The ballots were sample ballots that were used when regular ballots ran out in Precincts 405 (Anchorage School District Education Center), 465 (University of Alaska Anchorage Diplomacy Center) and 855 (Anchorage Community YMCA). Hall said they probably weren’t counted, but an auditing process will need to be completed to know for sure. Those precincts were not among the 15 were recounts were ordered, Hall said.”
Sample ballots. Those were one of the types of replacement ballots that could not be run through the machines. They were suppposed to be copied on a regular ballot called a “facsimile ballot” (by members of the Election Commission on Election night) and then scanned the same night with their precinct.
Here’s a problem. When scanned ballots are copied onto a facsimile ballot, the original and the copy are supposed to be stored together. Is the assumption that these ballots are not counted based solely on the fact that there are no originals with them? (If there are no copies and it turns out they have already been counted, that means that the facsimile ballots are permanently seperated and can never be found. That’s a big deal because the Municipality counts the facsimile ballots, not the originals.)
I have some other questions:
— How were these ballots missed?
— How did they all end up in the same bag? Isn’t the University a Questioned Ballot precinct?
— How can we be sure there are not more ballots somewhere else?
— Are we going to get our public audit now?
— How could we have had two certifications of the election and “all is well” reports from the Election Commission while these ballots were still missing?
To elaborate on that last question, here is Richard Mauer’s article on what steps the Municipality is going to take to rectify this:
“In response to the find, the city’s Election Commission will be asked to review the 141 ballots in public session at a date, time and location yet to be determined. The municipal attorney said the Anchorage Assembly will have to recertify the April election after the Election Commission acts, the statement said.”
It is important to note that some of the most flagrant errors, in the Recount and otherwise, were a result of Gwen Matthew and Election Commission.
1) The Election Commission Report submitted their first report to the Assembly while failing to gather up all of the data ahead of time (including an interview with poll worker Wendy Isbell, regarding the cut seal on the machine). That was how Ms. Isbell was left twisting in the wind at the Assembly Meeting when she correctly called Ms. Mathew on her error (that no cut seals had been reported) and Ms. Matthew falsely accused her of “hearsay.”
2) During the Recount, it was discovered that about 200 ballots were miscounted with the Questioned Ballots at Service High (Precinct 840) rather than be counted with the votes from the folks who showed up that day at their proper precinct. (Note…these were the same Questioned Ballots that the Muni refused to recount along with the absentee ballots in violation of Title 28 – one of the reasons we deserved our money back.)
3) Most recently, 141 ballots either are NOT copied into facsimile ballots (the Election Commission’s job) and were never counted (again, the Election Commission’s job) or they may have been copied but then separated from their originals (again, the Election Commission’s responsibility)!
PLEASE, PLEASE, explain to me why we are going to allow the Election Commission to certify their own mistakes?
Why is Gwen Matthew still in charge of the Election Commission?
Daysha Eaton from KSKA also had a report on the discovery, where she took pictures of where the ballots are stored now:
This cleaned-out, organized and more secure ballot storage is a far cry from the old one at the top. It is clear that improvements are on the way in the Clerk’s Office by way of new Municipal Clerk, Barbara Jones.
However, Wednesday’s ballot discovery shows that the necessary purge of the remaining election problems, including the Election Commission, is not yet complete.