The Anchorage Assembly is considering an ordinance change that drastically limits the ability of the election observers to witness what is going on inside the ballot-counting facility at Ship Creek during the ballot sorting and counting process.
The item, a rewrite of Title 28 of Municipal Code, is the subject of a public hearing; the meeting begins at 5 pm at the Loussac Library ground floor Assembly Chambers.
During the most recent election, the campaign of Mayor Bronson was vigilant with election observers, and also had someone posted outside the ballot-counting facility 24 hours a day to guard against fraud. Observers documented various incident that appeared irregular, including the mysterious setting off of a fire alarm during vote counting, which required clearing the building of all present. Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones became visibly agitated with the Bronson observers inside and outside the facility, and this proposed ordinance was prepared by her office and addresses her concerns with campaigns that are hyper-vigilant.
Jones has recommended significant changes to Title 28 of Municipal elections, which the liberal Assembly is likely to pass:
- Observers for candidates are reduced from four to just one per candidate inside the voting center.
- The Clerk’s Office can disallow an observer if she believes the observer doesn’t have the capacity for the task.
- Campaigns must submit the names of the observers at least 22 days before the election, a rule so restrictive that only unions may be able to find observers and register them in time. Most campaigns find observers after the election is over, as these are typically volunteer efforts and the citizens are working people.
- The Clerk’s Office can remove anyone at any time for any violation of her rules, which she has discretion to change.
- Observers may not photograph, video record, or audio record any activity inside the voting center. No cameras, no sound recording devices may be used by volunteer observers.
- Campaign staff or volunteer may not assist anyone in voting. This means that campaigns can no longer help people “cure” their ballots if their ballots have been rejected by the Clerk. It does not appear to apply to ballot harvesting, or the efforts of campaigns to send out paid or volunteer campaign emissaries to collect voted ballots from people and turn them into voting centers.
- Observers must observe rules in the observer handbook, and the handbook may be changed at any time by the Clerk.
After the recent municipal election, the clerk issued a scorching report, in which it was clear she did not appreciate the intensity of observers from the Bronson campaign.
But the observers were able to document events, such as when Assemblyman Chris Constant, who was working on the Forrest Dunbar for Mayor campaign, delivered a huge bouquet of flowers to the clerk — while the vote counting was still underway. The flowers appeared to be an inappropriate gesture from one of the sides of the election.
“Although it may be legal to photograph people and cars in public areas, the intensity and tone appeared to be geared towards intimidating officials rather than serving a legitimate purpose,” Jones said in her report to the Assembly.
“It was apparent from the behavior and questions … that a number of observers had not been trained by their campaign, many had not read the manual, and many did not have any understanding of the processes at the Election Center,” Jones’ report said.
Citizen observers of the last election noted that after observers were told that business had concluded for the day, election workers remained in the building, working unobserved. This was documented by photographs taken from outside the building, after the observers had been removed.
In another instance, the building security was questioned after a campaign observer noted and documented a person opening the exterior door to the ballot counting facility late at night — the door had been left unsecured.
Observers also noted that while observers from Democrat candidates did not remain in the building as long as those from Republican candidates, they always showed up right before counting began, an indication that their campaigns were being given special courtesy notifications from the Clerk’s Office.