District 40 election ‘illegal’ — may be certified anyway

Division of Elections Director Josie Bahnke / screen shot of KTVA interview
Division of Elections Director Josie Bahnke / screen shot of KTVA interview.


Division of Elections Director Josie Bahnke struggled to answer basic questions put to her by a joint Senate and House State Affairs Committee Monday. The questions were narrowly posed and pertained solely to glaring voting irregularities in Shungnak, Chefornak, and Newtok during the Aug. 16 primary. Other voting anomalies in Buckland, Bethel, and Barrow were not brought up in the hearing.

Only in Shungnak were the irregularities so profound that they might invalidate the results and force the state to call for a new election, the committee noted. On the ballot in District 40 was Dean Westlake challenging Rep. Ben Nageak.

Both are Democrats, and Westlake holds a 21 vote lead as the public waits for verification be completed in Juneau.

While Director Bahnke stammered, shuffled papers, and nervously laughed through her answers to the committee, at least she showed up telephonically to the hearing, noted Sen. Lesil McGuire. Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott did not appear, although ensuring fair elections is his only job in addition to guarding the state seal.

KTVA later interviewed Bahnke later, but she cut the interview short after drawing a blank on the question of how one would choose which ballots to count in a district where people had illegally voted more than one ballot and the ballots had since been commingled. She said the State will still certify the election even though it knows it was illegal.

During the two-hour committee meeting, Bahnke described the training her staff and temporary staff receives before elections but was unable to say how many workers simply choose to not receive training. That appeared to be the case in Shungnak, where the precinct leader said she had not received training for several years. Bahnke said it had been two years, but “if they don’t attend, there are no ramifications for them.”

Senator McGuire cautioned the director about certifying an election that she knows has so many provable missteps that can be directly linked to the outcome: “I encourage you to consider what your choices and options are and reach out to the Department of Law, the Department of Justice, the Attorney General, [because] there will be challenges if you don’t leave every stone unturned.”

Bahnke said she intends to certify the election by Friday but no later than Sept. 6.

In a letter to Bahnke dated Aug. 30, the chairman of the Alaska Republican Party also sent a warning shot: “The primary election of 2016, unfortunately, was subject to some critical, illegal, mistakes. These improprieties were made by numerous official precinct election clerks, but they were not your improper or illegal actions that you made personally. Now however, the buck stops with you.  If you certify that you can determine the actual winner of the House District 40 primary election for state representative, that will be…your reputation on the line.”

Babcock went further and called for a new election in District 40:

“While the numerous errors and illegal procedures are deplorable, thankfully only one election decision hangs in the balance. Who actually won the State House Democratic Primary in District 40? The voters tried, but the election was handled so poorly that now no one knows. If you cannot actually determine the winner of a primary, you must not certify the election. That would be a travesty and it would condone the repeated illegal instructions given by the official election clerks.

“This dilemma can be solved justly, simply, and properly by allowing voters in District 40 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.” – Tuckerman Babcock, Alaska Republican Party Chairman


Luke Welles of Barrow testified to the committee on Monday that residents in Barrow who were Republicans were denied access to the open ballot that has Alaska Independence, Libertarian and Democrats listed.

He described the frustrations and he and his wife experienced at the polls when election workers denied them ballots, saying they would have to vote a questioned ballot. They persisted and were finally allowed to vote. That problem also occurred in other parts of the state, but in District 40 it may have influenced the outcome of the close race.

The Republican Party contacted Bahnke on Election Day to report instances of voter suppression that were experienced by Republican voters in other parts of the state. Bahnke said she was aware of the problem.


Deborah Brollini testified that her son’s voter registration, completed earlier this year and documented by family photographs, was not found in the system by election workers on Aug. 16. The office of Sen. Lesil McGuire was able to locate the records and solve the problem so the  young man could vote, but Brollini said it placed a doubt in her son’s mind about the fairness of the election system.