Groups sue over lack of process to fix mail ballot mistakes

a sticker says "I voted" with feet
Stickers for voters after they cast their ballot on Aug. 16. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska elections officials are violating voters’ rights by not providing a process through which voters can fix mistakes on mail ballot envelopes, a lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Arctic Village Council, League of Women Voters of Alaska and two voters who the complaint says made mistakes on their ballot envelopes in the June special U.S. House primary that resulted in their ballots being rejected.

One of the voters, Joyce M. Anderson, inadvertently included an “incorrect voter identifier” and the other, Edward H. Toal IV, mistakenly thought a witness signature was not needed, the lawsuit states.

A voter identifier could include a date of birth or driver’s license number, the complaint says.

The special primary was conducted primarily by mail. More than 7,000 ballots were rejected, with “improper or insufficient witnessing” the most common reason, the lawsuit says. It says nearly two-thirds of ballots rejected “were not counted because of ballot envelope defects that could have been easily cured if Defendants had provided the voter with timely notice and an opportunity to cure them.”

Patty Sullivan, a spokesperson with the Alaska Department of Law, said the department could not comment on the specific allegations in the lawsuit filed Tuesday because the state had not yet been served.

But she said state law “does not include a notice and ballot cure process, and the Division is not free to disregard or rewrite the statutes passed by the Legislature.”

The lawsuit argues state laws “neither prohibit nor explicitly provide for timely notice of and an opportunity to cure absentee ballot envelopes” submitted without voter or witness signatures or an identifier. It contends that under existing law, “election officials could immediately notify voters of any ballot envelope error they detect and provide an opportunity for cure.”

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