JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Some election results from the Alaska primary could be delayed after more than 100,000 voters were given a month to clear up discrepancies with their addresses on voting records. Election officials have not given an exact count of how many did so, but those who didn’t may have to vote a questioned ballot in Tuesday’s primary election.
That creates the potential for a delay in election results, especially in tight races, since election officials do not begin counting questioned ballots until a week after the election.
“I think the problem is, we don’t know the breadth of the issue right now, so until we know the breadth of the issue, I don’t know that we know the questions to ask,” Stacey Stone, an attorney for the Alaska Republican Party, told The Associated Press.
Josie Bahnke, the elections director, was too busy with the election to talk to a reporter, her spokeswoman said.
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In 2016, Alaska voters approved a ballot initiative calling for the elections division to register qualified Alaskans to vote when they applied to receive an Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, an annual check from the state’s oil-wealth fund. The division also said the initiative allowed it to use information from those check applications to ensure voter registrations are current.
The division mailed required notices to those whose addresses on their dividend check application differed from their voter record address and to applicants not registered to vote, Bahnke said in a letter to Stone, provided to the AP by the elections office.
About 141,000 notices were sent beginning in March, roughly 36,000 of which were for new voters, Samantha Miller, communications manager for the elections division, said by email.
Miller said in a later email that about 13,000 people returned forms opting out, though it wasn’t clear how many of those declined registration or having their address changed. She said that number did not include the “thousands” who did so in person, online or by phone.
Alaska has about 567,500 registered voters.
Bahnke, in the letter to Stone, said the mailer notified people that the information on their dividend check application would be used to update their voter registration or register them to vote unless they opted out within 30 days.
Those who did not respond had their voter registration updated with information from their application or were registered to vote, she said. If those who had not been registered failed to respond within the 30-day window, they were added to the voter rolls with an “undeclared” party affiliation.
Stone said her read of Bahnke’s response was that the division was taking the physical address from the dividend check application and saying that was the residence address. Dividend applications request a mailing and a physical address but don’t use the term “residence” address.
Some people use their work address on their dividend check application, and the physical address for a student attending college may not be their residence address, Stone said.
Jay Parmley, executive director of the state Democratic party, said the issue needs to be sorted out moving forward.
“I’m not ready to say that people are going to be disenfranchised next Tuesday. I think they can still cast a vote. And I have faith that there’s a process to work it through,” he said. “But I do think it’s an issue that I’m not sure everybody thought about at the beginning.”
He said he takes Bahnke at her word that the division is prepared to handle voting.
The elections office says voters who had their information changed – but didn’t want a change – can vote a questioned ballot at the polling place based on where they live.
Questioned ballots aren’t new.
According to the division, a voter would be required to vote a questioned ballot if, for example, their name is not on a precinct register or they want a primary ballot type that they’re not eligible to vote. Before receiving a ballot, they must fill out a questioned ballot envelope; their voted ballot goes inside. Information provided on the envelope is used to determine the voter’s eligibility.
A bipartisan board reviews questioned ballots before they’re opened and counted, the division said.
State GOP Chairman Tuckerman Babcock said he’s glad the division is letting people vote where they think they live. But he said the division could have done a better job of educating voters. Some people may choose not to vote out of frustration, and that’s a shame, he said.
The campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Dunleavy called on Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott to suspend campaigning to deal with the issue. Walker and Mallott are bypassing Tuesday’s primaries and gathering signatures to appear on the November ballot. Walker is an independent. Mallott, a Democrat, oversees elections in the state.
It is too late for Alaskans to update their voter information ahead of the primary; that deadline passed in July. But voters have until Oct. 7 to update their information, if needed, before November’s general election.