Throwdown: District 40 election challenged

Rep. Ben Nageak


Representative Ben Nageak, and attorneys Tim McKeever and Stacey Stone have filed a challenge to the Primary election results that were certified in District 40, the farthest north region of the state.

Rep. Nageak lost by eight votes to challenger Dean Westlake in the Democrat primary, which was found to be fraught with enough irregularities to have influence the outcome.


The challenge is based on several points:


There were 50 votes cast in Shungnak – all 50 voters were allowed to vote both primary ballots — Republican and Democrat. The state acknowledged this as an error. The Division of Elections and the lieutenant governor took the position that since the House race was only on one ballot, no one voted twice and so this, while illegal, was ok.

However, the suit contends that the public has no way to know how many people would have chosen the Democrat (ADL) ballot if they had to choose, as they are everywhere else in the state. By choosing one ballot over another, they would either get to vote in the US Senate and House races or else the State House race, but not both during the primary. The Republican ballot is a closed ballot that is available to Republicans, undeclareds, and nonpartisans. This ballot has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.


Must Read Alaska has learned that in Kivalina seven voters insisted they were entitled to both ballots and they were given both but were required to file questioned ballots.

Both the regional review board and the state review board declined to count those seven double ballots.  However during the recount the decision was made by the Director of the Division of Elections.

Four of those votes went to Westlake and 1 to Nageak.

Unlike Shungnak where the poll workers apparently made the mistake, in Kivalina the poll workers correctly  thought it was wrong to vote both ballots, but the voters insisted, and the election workers relented.

Because the voters insisted on doing something illegal, the legality of those ballots is in question.


Voters who were registered Republican were required to vote questioned ballots if they asked to vote the open-ADL primary ballot.

Luke Welles, a resident of District 40, also reported issues with voting and testified at a legislative hearing with details about having to argue at length with election officials in order to be allowed to vote just the open-ADL ballot.

Welles eventually cast the open-ADL ballot.  His wife was forced to vote a questioned ballot, also open-ADL.

It’s possible some voters may have declined to vote the open-ADL ballot because of the extra hassle of filling out the paperwork for a questioned ballot.


Richard Thorne of Bettles was greeted by the election officials with the comment, “Oh here is Rick the Republican!”

He was not given the choice of a Democrat ballot. He was given a Republican ballot.This problem may have happened in other locations.


Several problems arose regarding special needs voters and the “personal representative” voting method. Only one voter indicated a party preference but all received the Democrat ballot in spite of the fact that some of these voters are non-declared and eligible to vote an R ballot.

The date the ballots were issued was not listed, likewise the date/time the ballots were returned was not listed.

The date of the signature by the representative was obscured on 11 out of the 12 ballots.

These ballots did not arrive in Nome until six days after the election.

It appears one of the official election workers took it upon herself to go out to find voters and allowed them to vote a special needs ballot without the voter requesting it.  As a result, Buckland had more special needs ballots cast than Palmer or Wasilla, in spite of the population differences and the vastly greater number of aged people in Palmer-Wasilla, due to nursing homes in the area.

Buckland’s ballot box stuffing with personal representative ballots is enough by itself to contest the election, because if these are all discarded, then Nageak wins by 1.5 votes using the proportional method, i.e. Westake got 79.629% of the Buckland votes and that amounts to 9.5555555 of the special needs ballots. If the state allowed the one special need ballot collected by a non-election worker,  Nageak wins by .759 votes.


During the regional absentee and questioned ballot review board session, four absentee ballots were misplaced. They may have been commingled with the questioned ballots and could not be retrieved.  Election workers in Nome apparently consulted with their colleagues in Juneau outside the presence of the observers. They returned to the observers and stated that had been instructed to randomly select four questioned ballots and count them as absentee ballots.

Thus, election workers took ballots that were not necessarily legal to be voted and counted them as if valid, which is inappropriate.


William Oviok was allowed to vote in Barrow.  It’s unknown if he is eligible, given he has a felony conviction and the fact that he was apparently not legal to vote in the mayoral election just a few weeks before.

However, he is a registered Democrat,  but the poll workers refused to give him an open-ADL ballot. A Division of Elections employee later sent him an email apologizing for this and acknowledging that he should have been allowed to vote an open-ADL ballot.


The law provides that the election is presumed valid and that mistakes by election personnel should not disenfranchise voters.

However some mistakes by voters and errors by election workers involved mandatory provisions of law and enough votes were involved that the outcome of the election could be changed.


Today, the complainants asked the Alaska Supreme Court to review the process of the recount. They asked a Superior Court judge to review the process of the election.

In either case the courts could:

  1. Order the count be changed in some way, by tossing out certain ballots.
  2. Find the election was so flawed that a new election is necessary. If this option is selected it is likely the new election would be held Nov. 8.

None of the specific issues in the complaint has been litigated in Alaska before, according to our research. But there are clear violations of the law involved in most of the above problems.  The problems were widespread, in several precincts, and involved enough ballots to change the outcome of the election.

Our original reporting on Aug. 18 peeled back the covers on voting problems in District 40. Other stories on Must Read Alaska can be found in the search box with keyword: election.

Alaska Dispatch New story of Aug. 19.

KTVA’s story of Aug. 22.

Juneau Empire’s story of Aug. 24.

Craig Medred’s report.