Anchorage finds potentially uncounted April ballots

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Anchorage city officials have discovered a batch of 141 ballots that potentially weren’t counted during April’s city election, when a gay rights measure failed.

Assembly Chair Ernie Hall and Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones said in a recent statement that the ballots were found in sealed bags on July 11, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The bags were supposed to only contain ballots that were already run through an optical scanner and counted. However, three bags contained some possibly uncounted ballots, along with the scanned ballots, city officials said.

Hall said the closest election was decided by several thousand votes, so 141 uncounted ballots would have no effect on any outcome.

The April 3 local election included the race for Anchorage mayor and a controversial gay rights measure. It was rife with problems, as some precincts ran out of ballots, sending frustrated voters scrambling to other locations or perhaps not voting at all if they couldn’t wait for replacement ballots to arrive.

The deputy clerk who handled Election Day duties was fired and her boss, City Clerk Barbara Gruenstein, resigned, but the fallout hasn’t stopped yet.

In an independent investigation, announced July 2, a retired Superior Court judge, Dan Hensley, blamed the mess on the city clerk’s office and the Anchorage Assembly, the Daily News reported.

The city’s election commission will be asked to review the 141 ballots in public session. The municipal attorney said the Anchorage Assembly will have to recertify the April election after the Election Commission acts, the statement said.

Hall and Jones emailed their statement to news outlets at 6:30 p.m. July 13, after city hall shut down for the weekend, the newspaper reported.

In an interview that night, Hall told the newspaper he didn’t want to notify the media about the discovery because there were still more sealed bags in the city’s vault to inspect. That inspection was concluded July 12.

“We wanted to make sure that we had everything done,” Hall said. “I only wanted to do one release. I wanted to make sure there was nothing in any other bag, anyplace.”

He and Jones further delayed notification until later July 13 because it took that much time to prepare the statement and an accompanying inventory check list, he said.

The 141 ballots were discovered “during an organizational process” begun by the clerk, officials said. Hall said the effort was part of trying to resolve what went wrong during the election and how to prevent a recurrence.

The ballots were sample ballots that were used when regular ballots ran out in several precincts.

Hall said they probably weren’t counted, but an auditing process will need to be completed to know for sure. Those precincts were not among the 15 were recounts were ordered, Hall said.

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