By DANIEL SMITH
Anchorage Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones created and oversees a new and incredibly convoluted election observer qualification process. The winding and overly bureaucratic process to become an election ballot observer is analogous to being swept up in a tornado, rendered unconscious, and deposited in a fairytale land of fictitious election integrity.
So begins our journey along the Barbara Jones, self-titled “yellow brick road” of mystical and illusionary ballot observation. Jones’ yellow brick road refers to the yellow taped pathway in the election center providing boundaries to the public.
Here is the new convoluted process as I understand it:
First step: One must sign up as a member of a specific campaign and attend a mandatory tour of the municipal election center on Ship Creek Ave. However, the city has failed to provide sufficient tour opportunities. This requirement to being an observer is a major bottleneck in the process. A total of 10 tours are offered with only seven of them prior to ballots being mailed out and processed on March 15. Only 10 people are allowed per tour. That’s only 70 possible observer’s maximum by the first day of ballot processing on March 15.
There was plenty of room for more than 10 people on my tour.
More onsite tours are not available from the Muni. All tours are fully booked through March 24, 2022. This is 10 days after many ballots have already been counted.
Second step: Fill out and submit a confidentiality agreement form and an observer registration form tied to each specific campaign. Easy you say? Yes, but it is a prerequisite to obtaining the ruby slippers that allow one to access the sacred and mandatory online training course. A course that was not available, to anyone, until Friday, March 11, just two business days before ballots begin to be processed. As stated by the Clerk on the March 10 tour, “We just published the online training for observers today.” Ballots are mailed out no later than March 15.
Step three: The new online training requires you pass the test and print your certificate. But you are not done yet. You must complete and submit for approval yet another form, the “Observer Training and Tour Agreement Form.” On this form you must proclaim that you have taken the online course and passed it, taken the facility tour, received the 33-page “Election Observers Handbook” and are generally a good person. As one who despises red tape, the phrase “How about a little fire, Scarecrow?” has new found meaning at this point.
Step four: Hurry up and wait. You must stand by for 48 hours to receive your official observation badge from the Great OZ. The tin man may have rusted in place by this time.
Our first batch of observers from one campaign attended the required tours March 10 and 12. These observers from that same campaign have submitted their required paper work in person, to the clerk on March 11 at 9:30 am. There will not be enough time to get their observer credentials because the online training has not been made available in a timely manner.
As of March 12, 2022, the red sand in the witch’s hourglass is passing very quickly. None of those observers have received their Clerk- issued, personalized e-mail invitation to access the required on-line training, take the test and receive their certificate. It was stated by the Clerk that only by her allowance will observers gain access to their required online training.
Even if the Clerk grants access to the online training Monday, March 14, and the required paper work is submitted that same day, there will not be enough time to gain observer status. The Clerk claims to have a 48-hour turnaround time for observer badges to be issued. That would be Wednesday at best. There will be no observers from several campaigns who are properly credentialed and able to observe ballot processing prior to March 16.
Due to the new twisted requirements placed upon potential observers, we are not likely to have approved observers from most campaigns. By the time the first ballots arrive at the Election Center and get processed on March 15, many campaigns will not have been given the opportunity to observe the initial counting.
There will be no diploma for the scarecrow.
In-person voting on election day was never this complicated. It produced quicker results at far less cost. All of the voter verification was immediate as you presented your picture ID and entered the polling location. Voting was far more secure. The integrity of votes was much more possible.
Courageous lions are bravely trying their best to comply with the procedural demands imposed on them in the ballot counting and processing land of OZ. They just want to serve as volunteers and try to ensure some degree of election integrity, but are actually being denied their opportunity.
The new and unnecessarily cumbersome observer registration process is ill-conceived and broken, either by design, incompetence, or both.
Dan Smith is a lifelong Alaskan and Anchorage resident who writes for Must Read Alaska.