Alaska’s elections are a mess and it’s getting worse by the day

(By Matt Buxton/TMS)

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:

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1 Comment on "Alaska’s elections are a mess and it’s getting worse by the day"

  1. Why would I believe this news?

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