Anchorage Assembly Votes Against Independent Council To Investigate Election

The Anchorage Assembly has voted ‘no’ on appointing an independent council to investigate the Municipal Election and called a special work session to review the situation. The announcement comes a week after polling places ran out of ballots.

Rhonda Matthews holds her right to vote dear. She’s voted in every election since she was 18, except when she was stationed overseas with the Air Force. She is one of the people who contact the ACLU of Alaska to report that she was not able to vote during the municipal election.

“I don’t care what side of the politics you’re on, it has to do with the right to vote and I was denied that,” Matthews said.

Matthews first went to her voting precinct at Klatt Elementary School just after 7 pm on April 3. That’s where she says she was turned away by an election worker in the parking lot who told her they’d run out of ballots and directed her to vote at the Alaska Club on O’malley. Matthews explains what happened next.

“When I arrived, I noticed that the parking lot was very crowded and that some people were exiting the building that appeared to be quite frustrated. I went inside 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. I was told I could vote at the airport,” she said.

By the time she was directed to the airport, Matthews says it was 7:45pm, and with polling places closing at 8pm, there wasn’t enough time, so she gave up and went home. She’s one of more than 150 voters across at least 54 precincts that submitted affidavits to the ACLU this past week. Monday, the Municipal clerk apologized in a memo, saying they had sufficient ballots, but did not allocate enough of them to individual precincts. The clerk’s office is still reviewing more than 6,000 questioned ballots that resulted because polling places ran out of official ones. But nobody knows how many people like Matthews just gave up and didn’t vote at all.

“How many voters did not get to vote? Was it 50? Was it 500? Was it 5000? We don’t know; to speculate is grossly inappropriate,” Mittman said.

That’s Jeffrey Mittman, the Executive director of the ACLU of Alaska. He says independent council should be appointed to investigate. Monday Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler issued a preliminary opinion this week, saying it appeared likely the election would be validated, based on a similar case back in 1989.  The Anchorage Assembly has the power to appoint an outside investigator. Assembly Chair, Debbie Ossiander started off Tuesdays’ regular Assembly meeting by apologizing.

“I deeply regret that polling places ran out of ballots during this municipal election. Every voter must be allowed to vote. No voter should be turned away. And for as long as I’m a member of this body, I will commit to making sure that a situation like this never happens again,” Ossiander said.

Assembly members Elvi Gray-Jackson and Harriet Drummond proposed a resolution that would appoint a special council. Gray-Jackson.

“I really believe that this is the right thing to do. As I mentioned these letters that we got from the ACLU are compelling and madam chair, if I might, I would like Mr. Mittman from the ACLU to come sit at our podium so that the rest of the people in this community can hear just how compelling their letter are,” she said.

Mittman briefed the Assembly, but they voted the resolution down 7-4. Some said they may reconsider once they see reports by the Municipal Clerk and the Election Commission at a work session on the election set for Friday. That’s something Rhonda Matthews says she hopes will happen.

“It would be nice to know how many people didn’t get to vote. I’m not sure how many everybody is outspoken as I am and willing to come forward and say what happened to them,” Matthews said. “I think it should be, it should be a re-vote, no matter what the outcome and the cost, because I think my rights and freedom to vote do not have a price tag on them.”

The Anchorage Assembly special work session on the Municipal Election is set for noon on Friday, April 13.

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Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network.

Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage.

Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email.

Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.

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