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Concerns raised over high number of ballots rejected in special primary election

A majority of the rejected ballots are coming from rural Alaska.
Published: Jun. 17, 2022 at 6:30 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska’s first all mail-in election is drawing criticism for an abnormally high number of ballots that have been rejected by the Division of Elections. A majority of the rejected ballots are coming from rural Alaska.

Ballots for the special primary election to fill the late Rep. Don Young’s seat had to be postmarked by June 11, but election officials are still counting incoming ballots. Data released Friday, June 17, shows several areas with unusually high rejection rates.

In House District 38 which includes the city of Bethel and communities along the Kuskokwim River, 374 of the 2,174 ballots received were rejected for a rejection rate of rate of 17.2%. House District 39 that includes the city of Nome, the Bering Straits and Yukon River Delta regions had 289 of the 2,013 ballots rejected for a rejection rate of 14.3%

In House District 40 that represents the cities of Utqiagvik and Kotzebue and communities in the Arctic Circle, 199 of the 1,649 ballots received were rejected for a rejection rate of 12.06 %. In Anchorage’s House District 19 that includes the Mountain View neighborhood, 191 of the 2,080 ballots received were rejected, making for a rejection rate of 9.1%

“You’re seeing areas that are low income, areas that are high Native high populations with these extraordinarily high rejection rates,” said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, one of a handful of legislators asking the Division of Elections to look into what happened.

The group Native Peoples Action is among those calling for changes in the ballot counting process as a response to the disproportionately high rejection rates from Native voters.

“It’s unacceptable,” said Native Peoples Action Policy Director Jackie Arnaciar Boyer. “I mean, thousands of Alaskans voices aren’t being heard. The core of our democracy is our vote. Our vote is our voice and we’re being silenced, it’s just unacceptable.”

Arnaciar Boyer believes the state didn’t adequately explain the need for a witness signature, which may have caused ballots to be rejected.

“I think the witness signature requirement confused a lot of people, especially Alaska Natives who English might not be their first language,” she said. “A lot of outreach wasn’t done I feel like, or not enough outreach.”

Wielechowski agreed that a lack of witness signatures was probably responsible for many ballots being rejected.

“I think there was just a lot of confusion by people about whether or not they actually needed it. I know I’ve talked to people who have been voting for years and they were confused by the instructions that were required,” he said.

Both legislators and Native Peoples Action have asked the Division of Elections for an accounting of why ballots were rejected. The Division said it plans to release a full report after the election is certified June 25.

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