State reviewing absentee ballots in razor-thin primary race for House seat

PHOTO: Person filling out a ballot, Photo Date: August 15, 2016
PHOTO: Person filling out a ballot, Photo Date: August 15, 2016(KMVT)
Published: Aug. 27, 2018 at 4:58 PM AKDT
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The Alaska Division of Elections is looking closely at absentee ballots for House District 15 after a number of irregularities were found, including applications for ballots for voters who had died.

The irregularities were found in absentee ballots in District 15, a hotly-contested contest. On the Republican side, the leading candidate, newcomer Aaron Weaver, is leading by three votes over the incumbent, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, as of the division's most recent count on Wednesday.

Absentee and questioned ballots are likely to determine the outcome. But seven absentee ballot applications were received by the Division for people who state records showed had died, according to a division statement. Those ballots have been rejected, the statement said.

Division of Elections spokeswoman Samantha Miller said the entire matter may be referred for criminal prosecution.

Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock, an opponent of LeDoux because she joined a Democratic-led coalition in the House, described the acknowledgement by the division of "irregularities" as an extraordinary "series of events."

Weaver, in an interview, said he trusts the division to get to the bottom of the problems. LeDoux didn't return a text message or cell phone message.

Lyn Franks, who led her nearest rival in the Democratic primary by 51 votes, said she was surprised by the situation and planned to monitor it closely.

For the division, the first concerns about absentee ballots was a high number from the district that came back as undeliverable, according to the prepared statement. The statement didn't say whether those ballots were Republican or Democrat, or for whom they were cast.

"What raised suspicions in this election cycle is that of those voters that the division was not able to reach, over 50 percent (40 out of 70) were from House District 15.

The state says it is conducting a second review for all absentee ballots from House District 15.

The state says in the case of “undeliverable” absentee ballots, the state makes an effort to contact the voters and get them a new ballot. In the case of ballot applications for someone who has died, the state did not send a ballot.

The state conducted that second review, and said, “there is no reason to be concerned about the vast majority of absentee ballots from the district.” The state says most absentee voters had long voting records at their addresses, and that their signatures matched division records.

However, some ballots raised concern that the voter did not actually cast the ballot, or was no longer living in District 15. The state says it tried to contact the voters on the phone to confirm where they lived and whether they voted.

At least two said they had not voted in the primary election. The two ballots will not be counted, the state said.

Some of the phones the Division tried to reach were no longer in service, or were not answered.

The state is taking action to rule out ballots that are illegitimate, but says the Alaska Supreme Court has said the law favors counting a ballot that does not have clear evidence that the vote was improper, so as to not disenfranchise a voter without good reason.

“The integrity of our elections is vital to our democracy,” said Division of Elections Director Josie Bahnke in an email statement. “The division will continue to look into this matter throughout the week and remove any ballots that we determine should not be counted.”

Here’s what the state is doing:

All absentee ballots from the district will be kept with their envelopes rather than commingled. That way, any votes later identified as improper can be subtracted from the vote total.

The Division will first count absentee ballots that do not raise authenticity concerns, and will determine the candidates’ vote totals including those ballots.

The division will next count the absentee ballots that do raise concerns, but do not have evidence to warrant rejection, to see if they would affect the outcome.

The division will have a provisional count on the election completed by Tuesday, but the final count will not be certified until Saturday.

The Division says it will continue to evaluate the ballots until the deadline for certification of the election on Saturday.