It seems like every week brings another story about how the Alaska Division of Elections is either mishandling, bungling or biasing this year’s elections because every week does, in fact, bring another story about how the Alaska Division of Elections is either mishandling, bungling or biasing this year’s elections.
The latest incident was revealed in a report by KYUK detailing how the 130 residents of the new village Mertarvik, where residents from Netwok are relocating due to coastal erosion and flooding, were ultimately denied the opportunity to vote in this year’s primary election because the Division of Elections didn’t know people lived there.
Elections Director Gail Fenumiai, who oversaw elections under Republican Govs. Palin and Parnell, told local tribal officials in a call on Aug. 11—a week before the election—that they had just discovered people lived in Mertarvik, which has been the subject of several high-profile reports.
According to KYUK:
“That remark raised eyebrows in Newtok. Over the past few decades, Newtok has been working closely with the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development on the village’s move to Mertarvik. (Newtok Tribal Administrator Andrew) John said that the Division of Elections should have known the status of the relocation project.
In order to offer voting to residents living in Mertarvik, the Division of Elections planned to send one of the voting officials from Newtok to the new village with absentee ballots. On Aug. 11, the division’s Region IV office, located in Nome, sent the ballots and supplies to Newtok via priority shipping. This is where the whole operation really fell apart.
‘Turns out that those materials never came,’ John said.”
The Division’s lack of urgency to get election materials to Newtok in a timely manner meant that both Newtok and Mertarvik residents were unable to vote on official ballots. Thanks to some quick thinking by a local election official in Newtok, 17 Newtok residents who were able to vote by voting on printed-out sample ballots. None in Mertarvik were able to vote.
Now, Fenumiai—who was praised by Republicans in her return to the Division of Elections as a “veteran of Alaska elections”—is promising to send election materials to rural communities earlier to avoid a repeat of the “mishap” though the KYUK report notes that Newtok is still in need of elections officials for the general election.
That last point about the lack of election officials should be ominous for everyone throughout Alaska. The Division of Elections has already warned that it may simply close polling stations if there aren’t enough poll workers to run them, a move that came to fruition in the primary election for six village polling stations. The state announced the closure about 12 hours before polls opened.
This isn’t the first time that the conduct of the Division of Elections has given us reason to doubt the fairness of this year’s elections. In what’s becoming a running list of events, which really is becoming weekly at this point, we’ve seen time and time again that something’s fishy about this year’s elections:
- After claiming that reprinting ballots for Democrat-backed independents would ‘blow up the election,’ the state went ahead last week and reprinted some ballots for Libertarians.
- The week before that, the Division of Elections sent out digital ballots (which need to be printed and mailed back) to overseas voters that left out Democrat-backed independent legislative candidate Suzanne LaFrance.
- The week before that, the Division of Elections finally revealed a secretive redesign of the ballot that wiped away the independent status of Democrat-backed candidates from the general election ballot. It’s a move that critics said aligned with Republican talking points. The state refused to ever explain why it made the change.
- Earlier this year, the Division of Elections refused to conduct a by-mail absentee election during the pandemic despite the Legislature explicitly giving them that power.
- The state then sent out by-mail ballot applications to voters 65 and older (a traditionally more conservative voting population) even though anyone can apply for and request an absentee ballot for any reason. A lawsuit was filed on this front, but a Trump-appointed judge ruled against it.
- The summary of Ballot Measure 1, which seeks to raise taxes on legacy oil fields, was found to be unfairly biased by the state. This is where the courts said Meyer had put his fingers on the scales, a call that was upheld by the Alaska Supreme Court.
- The Division of Elections, on the advice of now-former Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, attempted to reject the effort to recall Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy from office as well as an election reform voter initiative. The Alaska Supreme Court found both rejectionswere wrong.
- With little notice, the state closed several polling places in rural Alaska ahead of the primary election dueto a lack of available poll workers (which is why groups were pushing for a by-mail election).
- The state is currently being sued over the requirement for absentee ballots to have a witness signature,a requirement that civil rights groups say forces solitary people to choose between voting and potentially contracting COVID-19.