141 More Ballots Found in Closet at Anchorage City Hall

The room where the missing ballots are now stored is fireproof and secured by a combination lock. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage

Just when everyone thought the messiest chapter in recent Anchorage voting history was closed, Municipal Leaders confirm that they have found more than 100 uncounted ballots leftover from the flawed April 3 Municipal election.

Officials say Clerk’s Office staff discovered the uncounted ballots in a storage closet in the Assembly Conference room on the first floor of City Hall last Wednesday. And where could so many ballots disappear? A staff member who city officials didn’t want to name showed me.

Staff: This is the door to the room inside the Assembly Conference Room. Daysha: And this is basically just a corner room about the size of a large walk-in closet, right? Staff: Correct, with windows. Daysha: Where exactly were the ballots? Staff: On the tables in black bags.”

Inside those bags, officials discovered 141 uncounted sample ballots from three precincts that were cast during the April 3 election. They say all the election materials were stored in that room. Anchorage Assembly Chair Ernie Hall chose to hold off on informing the media about the find until Friday evening, he says, to better assess the magnitude of the situation.

“There’s just been too many mistakes in this election, and I didn’t want this to be handled in a manner that it became another mistake,” Hall said.

The ballots were discovered just as the municipality was getting out from under the shadow of one of the messiest elections in its history. Attorney Dan Hensley, a retired Alaska Superior Court judge, issued a report earlier this month laying the blame on bad management by then Clerk Barbara Gruenstein and an inexperienced Deputy Clerk, Jacqueline Duke. He also faulted the Anchorage Assembly for a lack of oversight of the Clerk’s Office. Before the report was filed, the clerk resigned and the deputy clerk was fired. Hall says the ballots were found during transfer to a more secure vault in the Clerk’s Office.

“We found them when we took them out of the vault downstairs where they were stored. And they were in sealed bags down there. All the bags were opened and those contents were transferred into the file boxes and that’s when they discovered sample ballots in those bags,” Hall said.

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage

Sample Ballots were used after election workers ran out of regular ballots. They were supposed to be turned in and counted separately. Hall says, because of the find, he is reconvening the Election Commission.

“It’s 141 ballots. It’s not going to change the outcome of any election. But the fact of the matter is, I’m gonna tell you I’m having enough trouble living with the fact that we had a messed up election. I’m not going to live with the fact that maybe somebody’s vote didn’t get counted that made the effort to come out and do it. Whatever we have to do to make sure that all 141 of those are accounted for, we’re going to do it,” Hall said.

Next week the Election Commission will reassemble to check each of the 141 ballots. Information about which precincts the ballots came from will be released in a report to follow. Because of the discovery of the additional ballots, the election will need to be re-certified Hall says, likely in early August.

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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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