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Anchorage Assembly hears first round of public comment over proposed election code changes

Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 10:46 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly heard their first round of public testimony over proposed election code changes on Tuesday night, with most against any of the changes.

“I just found out about this ordinance last night and it’s really kind of upsetting,” a public testifier said.

The assembly is proposing changes to the city’s election code that the city’s election team says will help streamline administration of municipal elections and to improve efficiency, but Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson has said that these changes significantly reduce transparency of the election process.

“Trust in the process of our elections is vital to the success of a republican form of government,” said Bronson at last week’s assembly meeting. “These changes significantly reduce transparency of the election process.”

The assembly is set to discuss and vote on an ordinance that would implement a number of changes to the current code. The city’s election office came out and clarified these changes in a press release, saying the changes are:

  • Clarifying language to address voter confusion;
  • Adding a fourth state condition code to the list of voters who are not automatically mailed a ballot package, saving municipal tax dollars;
  • Setting the same standards for a voter assistant as for a special needs representative;
  • Revising and clarifying elements of the observer program;
  • Reorganizing certain sections for clarity and removing redundant language;
  • Making the rules for counting write-in votes more clear and specific.

Changes to the election code are proposed annually. Each year, the municipal clerk’s election team conducts a review of Title 28, which is the section of city code relating to municipal elections, and the team proposes changes to help streamline administration of municipal elections and to improve efficiency. The changes are then analyzed by the Anchorage Election Commission, the Assembly Ethics and Elections Committee, and assembly counsel.

Some of the proposed tweaks in the ordinance that drew the most testimony were those that would make changes to the election observer program. The ordinance proposes adding a line that states observers “shall not possess any mechanical or electronic means of recording images or sound within designated areas.”

Another proposed change would clarify that the number of observers allowed at the city’s election center would be “subject to space or regulatory constraints.” A candidate or organization can have at least one, and up to four, registered observers at the city’s election center.

A document provided on the city’s election website shows a breakdown of the proposed changes along with short explanations for them.

“For example, in an election for mayor with 13 candidates, election officials may not be able to accommodate 52 (13x4) observers at the Election Center,” the document states.

These proposed code changes drew opposition from several members of the public Tuesday who came to testify.

“As long as it’s observable and there’s cameras there to watch everything that’s going on, I mean there’s no trust by the public,” one member of the public said.

“Even if 2,000 people are standing behind me and telling you this is going to destroy our country,” another testifier said.

Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance mentioned at the special session that if people have any questions to get ahold of the elections team at elections@anchorageak.gov or call 907-243-8683.

“The elections team has invited some registered observers from the spring elections to meet and discuss the proposed changes to the observer program in the proposed ordinance,” LaFrance said at the meeting. “The sponsors and election team look forward to a robust discussion on how to improve the observer program.”

She said information shared at that meeting will also be shared with the assembly.

This was the first public hearing for the ordinance, and there will be another one at the regular assembly meeting on Dec. 21, at the Loussac Library.

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