Anchorage Assembly approves changes to city’s election code
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Tuesday night was the third and final night for discussions over a handful of changes to Anchorage’s election code, after the assembly did not having enough time last week to finish making amendments.
Changes to the section of city code governing municipal elections is routinely reviewed, and changes are often brought before the assembly. This year, a number of changes were proposed in the ordinance passed 10-1 by the assembly on Tuesday, many of which were tweaks to language and definitions for clarity. Assembly member Jamie Allard case the sole “no” vote.
Some of the changes which drew pushback during two public hearings had to do with strengthening training requirements for election observers, clarifying how many of them there can be at the city’s election center and tightening rules about recording certain parts of the election process.
What still needed to be finished was an amendment that was carried over from the last meeting, and also three new amendments introduced Tuesday night.
The first amendment the assembly tackled was one proposed by assembly member John Weddleton that clarified groups and candidates may have at least one, and up to four, observers at election sites. Assembly members have stated multiple times that the proposed ordinance never sought to change the total number of observers candidates are allowed to have, but many in the public found the wording confusing and were concerned the municipal clerk would be given the power to limit them.
Weddleton’s amendment clarifies that the minimum number of observers allowed per candidate or group is one, and that the maximum is four, and that when space constraints allow more than one observer per candidate, each candidate will get an equal share of observers. The clerk’s office had used the example of having 13 mayoral candidates, saying in a document that if each candidate were to have four observers, that many people just might not fit into the election center.
“The number of observers is going to be equal across all the groups,” said Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones during Tuesday’s meeting. “If they have to be reduced, it’ll be equal. That’s an equal protection issue.”
Assembly member Crystal Kennedy tried to change Weddleton’s amendment to add that the clerk must be in conjunction with a municipal attorney before they could restrict the total number of observers to less than the maximum of four each.
“This would basically provide not only some protections for the municipal clerk in making these kinds of decisions to restrict numbers of observers, but it would also help reassure the public that it’s not just one person making this decision and this would give the municipal clerk some back-up if you will, kind of some legal, legal reason to be making these kinds of decisions,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy’s amendment failed in a 3-8 vote, while Weddleton’s amendment passed as originally worded. It also stipulates that the municipal clerk has to have “good cause” to limit the maximum number of observers.
The second amendment introduced revolved around transparency, and adds into the election code that the municipal clerk will provide for livestreaming election processes 24/7. This was another issue brought up by members of the public and Mayor Dave Bronson, who was not present at Tuesday’s special meeting.
In the amendment brought forward by Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance, the livestream will be provided continuously and displayed on the internet, published by municipal elections web pages.
“I think it provides the transparency that the public is looking for, and I understand that you are looking for that too,” Jones said.
“To have this available to the public to be able to check in at any point and watch the process ... I think is going to go a long way to improve and increase public trust,” Kennedy said.
This amendment passed unanimously, as did an amendment detailing how a write-in candidate can register observers.
Other changes adopted by the assembly through the ordinance require election observers to be trained by the municipal clerk’s office and to take a tour of the election center before they can observe an election.
“I think it’s important that campaigns and candidates get their observers signed on early so that they can get the training and the tour of the elections center that they need to be able to do a good job as an observer,” said assembly member Pete Petersen.
The last amendment passed says the municipal clerk’s office will have until Jan. 25, 2022 to update the observer’s handbook to that it is in line with the changes made by the ordinance.
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