State Review Board certifies primary elections
On Tuesday, a bi-partisan State Ballot Review Board completed its final review of all election materials and certified the primary election results in Juneau, according to the Division of Elections.
The board had a target date of Sept. 2 to certify the elections, but both major parties appealed to Josie Bahnke, Division of Elections director, to look into mistakes made by election workers in House District 40 and other complaints. This postponed canvassing the elections until Tuesday, Sept. 6.
In one incident, voters in Shungnak were given both the Republican and ADL (Alaska Democratic Party, Alaska Libertarian Party, and Alaskan Independence Party) ballots, in a breach of state law that allows one voter only to vote on one primary election ballot.
According to a press release from the Division of Elections, “In House District 40, data provided to the Division indicates that an error at the Shungnak precinct — where a poll worker mistakenly gave all in-person voters both the combined Democratic-Libertarian-Alaskan Independence ballot and the Republican Primary ballot and all voters voted both ballots— could potentially alter the outcome of the race.” The release continues to say that a candidate’s name appears only on one ballot, and no voter was able to cast more than one vote for any candidate.
The official results confirmed that Dean Westlake of Kotzebue won the Democratic primary with 819 votes (50.65 percent) over incumbent Benjamin Nageak of Barrow.
According to a letter from Alaska Republican Chairman Tuckerman Babcock to Josie Bahnke, “there are now at least three precincts where we know precinct workers illegally gave voters both the ADL ballot and the Republican ballot Koyuk (D39), Chefornak (D38) and Shungnak (D40).”
The letter from the Republicans states — and KTVA corroborates — that a voter from Koyuk has called KTVA to report he was given both Republican and ADL ballots. The letter also states that a voter in Barrow, a registered Republican wanting to vote an ADL ballot, was initially denied to vote that ballot by election workers. “That voter was told by the Clerks hired by the Division of Elections at the precinct that as a registered Republican that he was ineligible to participate in the ADL primary. That instruction was against the law,” the letter states. Indeed, under Alaska Democratic Party rules, any qualified voter no matter what party he or she has registered with, can vote in the Democratic primary.
The letter concludes that, since there are no Republican candidates in House District 40, voters of that district should be allowed “to determine the winner of the election by legal votes cast rather than a tainted improper and unknowable primary vote.”
“There are no Republican candidates in the general election and there are no third party candidates in the general election. A legal and fair election can be held on November 8 and the voters of District 40 allowed to cast legal votes for their State Representative,” proposed Babcock.
The Alaska Democratic Party responded with a letter to Josie Bahnke, protesting Babcock’s proposal. “We understand from media reports that the Chairman of the Republican Party has requested that the Division of Elections disregard the August Democratic primary results and conduct a new election in November,” the letter signed by Casey Steinau, Chair of the Alaska Democratic Party, reads. “A review of the facts indicates a costly, wholesale restructuring of the election is unwarranted.”
Steinau argued that the wide margin in Shungnak between Kotzebue’s Dean Westlake and incumbent Ben Nageak of Barrow (48 votes for Westlake, 2 for Nageak) is consistent with the 2014 Democratic Primary election, when Westlake received 46 votes and Nageak six votes. Overall, according to preliminary results, Westlake was leading the primary by a narrow margin.
“We are all frustrated by how aspects of this election were handled,” the letter from the Democrats says. “The people of District 40 have spoken and we must respect that. If Mr. Babcock succeeds in undermining their voice, that would be the real failure of this election.”
In an interview with Josie Bahnke on Friday, she told The Nome Nugget that the State Review Board has worked very hard to sort out the facts. She said even though the voters in Shungnak received both ballots, it does not mean that the ballots were filled out twice. Although the certification of the primaries was targeted for Sept. 2, the review board took extra time and scheduled the certification for Tuesday, Sept. 6. “We take additional time to make sure that every possible detail is considered to give Alaskans full confidence in the division’s final tally of the results,” Bahnke said.
In a press release issued on Tuesday, Bahnke said that the Division continued to receive election materials from House District 40, including two questioned ballots from Anaktuvuk Pass and 14 voted in-person absentee ballots from Barrow.
“The State Ballot Review Board reviewed, opened and counted those ballots and added them to the official results. The final tally for the House District 40 race is Dean Westlake with 819 votes and Ben Nageak with 815 votes,” says the release.
Now that the election is certified, a defeated candidate or ten qualified voters may apply for a recount. Since the difference between the number of votes cast was 20 or less, the state will bear the cost of any recount.
According to a Facebook post by the Nageak campaign, the Committee to Re-Elect Benjamin Nageak has hired an attorney to investigate the conduct of the election and to advise as to future possible actions.
Statewide, Democrat Ray Metcalf won the ADL ballot to challenge Republican Lisa Murkowski’s U.S. Senate seat. Metcalf received 50.05 percent of the ADL vote, over Edgar Blatchford and Libertarian Cean Stevens.
Murkowski posted a commanding lead in the Republican primary and received 71.5 percent over three challengers. Republican Bob Lochner was the closest one, with a distant 15.35 percent of the Republican vote.
In the race for U.S. Representative, Democrat Steve Lindbeck won by a huge margin, with 55.6 percent of the ADL vote. Republican incumbent Congressman Don Young garnered 71.53 percent of the Republican vote.
Senate District T, for Nome, did not see a challenge for incumbent Senator Donald Olson. There was no challenger within the Democratic party nor did a Republican run for Olson’s seat. Olson received all of 2,546 votes cast district-wide.
The same holds true for House District 39, where incumbent Rep. Neal Foster ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and also has no Republican opponent. Foster received all of 1,101 votes cast district-wide.
The voter turnout in Nome was scant and the lowest percentage wise in the entire district.
Of the 2,613 registered voters in Nome, only 271 voters showed up at the polls.
The highest voter turnout in House District 39 was Shaktoolik, where 125 (81.17 percent) out of 154 registered voters participated in the primary election.
Statewide, of the 515,714 registered voters, only 89,111 or 17.28 percent cast a ballot.