Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan Re-Elected, Proposition 5 Defeated By The Voters, But Ballot Shortages May Cast Cloud Over Election

Having watched the Anchorage municipal election results all evening, I see that Dan Sullivan's lead over Paul Honeman continues to grow and that the No vote on Proposition 5 is also increasing. This means that results from the more conservative precincts are now filtering in, and with 98 percent of the vote counted, we can project winners. The big winner is Mayor Dan Sullivan, and the big loser is Proposition 5. However, the fact that 18 different precincts ran out of ballots casts a cloud over this election. Only electronic ballots were counted tonight; absentee and questioned ballots will be counted on April 13th. Direct links to the raw results:

-- Mayor & School Board Seats
-- Bonds & Propositions
-- Road Service Areas

Anchorage mayor Dan Sullivan is well on his way to re-election, currently leading challenger Paul Honeman by 21 percentage points. Earlier in the evening, the lead was as narrow as 11 points. Pollster Dave Dittman called a 21-point victory in advance, so everyone knew Honeman was going down. While Sullivan considers it very gratifying to be re-elected by a large margin, and the outcome shows that voters agreed he's been doing a pretty good job the last few years, Honeman refuses to concede at this point because the city ran out of ballots in multiple precincts. He's talking with counsel before determining his next move.

School Board Races: Despite a spirited effort by David Nees, Kathleen Plunkett is winning a second three-year term by a 27-percentage point margin. While I voted for Nees, I'm not really surprised that Plunkett won. Although Nees was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable campaigner and a fiscal conservative, he was a diamond in the rough, rough enough to persuade the Anchorage Daily Planet to endorse Plunkett. Nees probably spent more time criticizing his opponent than was warranted; while the criticism was principled and valid, people also want to hear what's right about the candidate. A hat tip to Nees for stepping up to the plate.

In Seat F, Tam Agosti-Gisler is cruising to an expected victory due to ineffectual opposition. The only surprise in this race is that Richard Wanda is getting over 30 percent of the vote. Too bad Bob Griffin didn't enter this race; he would have run away with it.

Seat G featured what was expected to be a nip-and-tuck battle between Starr Marsett and Natasha Von Imhof. However, Von Imhof took the early lead and never relinquished it, and is currently up by 14 percentage points. Marsett's advocacy of a payroll tax may have undone her. Still, this was the classiest race of the lot.

Propositions: Anchorage voters opened their wallets to roads (Prop 2), parks (Prop 3), and emergency medical services (Prop 4) by wide margins. Voters even approved the school bond (Prop 1), albeit by a narrower 15-point margin. The Anchorage School District did a fine job paring the bond down to its basics and effectively communicating the need to the community. Anchorage voters also overwhelmingly approved Prop 6, which would allow the city to publish official notices online instead of in the newspapers, and Prop 7, which would exempt the first $150,000 of a military widow's property so long as the widow remains widowed.

Proposition 5: Pollster Dave Dittman blew the call; he projected that the Yes vote would win by 9 percentage points. Instead, with 98 percent of the vote counted, the No vote is leading by nearly 17 percentage points. However, Dittman is normally in the ball park, so this may represent one of the most remarkable comebacks by a political force in recent Anchorage history. Jim Minnery of the Alaska Family Council can now be considered the Tim Tebow of Anchorage politics. When the first results were released earlier tonight, the Yes vote had a slight lead, but then the No vote took the lead and widened it. It should be noted that Alaska Dispatch reveals that both Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski voted Yes on Proposition 5.

But a cloud already looms over the results. Fueled by the contentious Proposition 5, turnout appears to be slightly higher than the typical 23 percent standard for a municipal election. As a result, ballot shortages were reported at 18 different polling stations throughout the city, mostly in South Anchorage. Voters at the Dimond High School polling station were asked to take questioned ballots, which can take an additional two weeks to process. But in other cases, some voters went away empty-handed, declining to exercise the franchise although there are two universal polling places in Anchorage, at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and UAA, where citizens can vote regardless of the precinct in which they are registered.

There was also some last-minute controversy by the No On 5 side. They sent out an e-mail and posted a message on their Facebook site saying that people could register and vote on election day. This is false; the rules clearly state that to be eligible to vote in today’s election, a voter must have registered at least 30 days ago. It proved to be a simple misunderstanding -- Jim Minnery said he called the municipal clerk's office and talked to a worker, not Barbara Gruenstein herself, who misunderstood his question about whether voters could register and vote the same day and gave him erroneous information as a result. KTUU reports that in response to claims that Minnery put out the bad information purposefully in order to "crash the election", Gruenstein said that although it wouldn't be accurate to claim people were trying to crash the election, she has reason to believe that people from outside Anchorage were attempting to vote. Minnery scoffed at that notion, saying "That's a pretty idiotic strategy,", adding that any improperly cast votes would be nullified when elections officials examined the ballots.

Nevertheless, Deputy Municipal Clerk Jacqueline Duke told KTVA because of the mistaken Facebook posting, thousands of additional questioned ballots were cast. Barbara Gruenstein has now confirmed that ballots cast by voters who registered on the day of the election will not be considered valid.

As a result of these issues, some people are posting hysterical comments in the Anchorage Daily News demanding a "do-over" or even federal intervention. However, Trevor Storrs, a spokesman for the pro-gay rights group One Anchorage, said their campaign was waiting for a statement from the city clerk on the reported voting irregularities before deciding upon their next step. Mayor Dan Sullivan is also concerned about the possibility that voters were disenfranchised, noting that elections aren't a perfect process, and hoping that the issues would not be significant enough to cause a challenge or dispute.

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