News from Patrick Flynn

Mea culpa

I am sorry.  I’m going to write more to explain why I’m sorry, not to seek forgiveness or proclaim some semblance of innocence, but to offer perspective on how we got to this point.  None of it, however, will begin to excuse how we ended up with an election in disarray.

When I first sought a seat on the Assembly, back in 2008, the municipal Clerk’s office had a full-time election coordinator and Anchorage’s elections had a history of relatively smooth operations (excepting the 1989 race, disrupted by a major power outage).  In July 2009 that changed when she retired and, in an environment where budget cuts were the order of the day (I actually remember being in the room when the mayor looked across the table at the Clerk and asked what cuts she was planning to coincide with his budget reductions), it was decided that her position would not be backfilled.  Instead, municipal elections-related work would be assigned to the deputy clerk with support from other staff in the Clerk’s office.  And while that plan came from the Clerk, it was the Assembly that actually approved it and set the budget on that basis.  In short, we own that decision.

At the next election, in 2010, we had a problem with precinct 535, which votes at the Anchorage Senior Center in Fairview, due to what’s known as a “split” precinct.  This historically occurs when Assembly district lines are drawn using state precinct lines and then the state, in finalizing legislative districts, alters those precinct lines.

A brief aside here; the problem of split precincts should disappear in the future in part due to a recommendation by the current Clerk.  She suggested, and the Assembly and voters concurred (in 2007), a charter amendment that ensures local Assembly district lines do not get drawn until the state map is complete (section 4.01).  That way when we follow the state lines we can be assured they’ll stay put!

All the voters in precinct 535 reside in Fairview and are therefore part of Section 1, the part of town I have the privilege of representing.  The precinct lines include a portion of Sitka Street Park that Assembly district lines place in the midtown district.  No one lives there (at least, not officially) but because of that little sliver midtown district ballots have to be available at the Senior Center.  (I suppose there could be a scenario where someone showed up to vote and claimed the southeast corner of the park as their residence, in which case they’d get to vote a questioned midtown ballot, but I’ve never heard of such a thing.)

Unfortunately there was some confusion that day and somehow section 1 residents ended up voting section 4 ballots at precinct 535.  The good news was that there was no downtown Assembly race that year so it was relatively simple to deduct the Fairview votes for Dick Traini and Andy Clary, the midtown candidates, and get accurate totals – no one was disenfranchised.

Speaking for myself, I figured the error occurred within the context of new people taking on new responsibilities.  In short, a teaching moment that would result in improved process and safeguards down the road.  I’m not sure how my colleagues felt, but I’m not aware of anyone taking significant disciplinary action.  Given this year’s problems, it appears we should have stepped in somehow and we certainly own our failure to do so.

Which brings us to the current day and we have to figure a way forward.  We’re in the process of sending scoping suggestions to Dick Traini so he can assemble a resolution authorizing an independent investigation.  I’m pretty confident that will pass easily.  The trickier question is what to do about certification – the election isn’t over until the Assembly ratifies it with a certification vote.  We’ve already delayed a week and, sitting here today, I can’t say when or how much more information I’ll need before I’ll feel able to vote affirmatively.

Until we do, however, school board members can’t take office, bonds can’t be sold and the mayor can’t be sworn in for a second term.  (There isn’t much time pressure on that latter one, the mayoral oath of office doesn’t occur until July 1.)  And I have no one to blame but myself, so my apologies to all of you.



This contribution was made on Wednesday, 18. April 2012 at 19:49 and was published under the category Election matters. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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  1. Patrick,

    Can you come on or call into to the show on Friday? 947-2418 is my cell

    Comment: dan fagan – 18. April 2012 @ 8:10 pm

  2. Patrick,
    I think we all appreciate more explanation that helps make clear where the lines of responsibility lay, and also how, structurally, a budget decision had an impact in the real world.
    Certainly the stories we’ve heard about people being turned away or made to wait a long time to vote are awful – I saw it in person at two precincts. But of even more concern are the stories about the voting machines and the lack of concern about seals over memory cards. If these are true, I don’t see how the results can be believed. Worse, there’s no way to gauge the size of it. We can make a pretty good estimate of how many people were disenfranchised, or at least, name a cap, and know that it is under it, and that means that, disturbing as it is, we can know the result is not affected.
    But if the machines were really not secured…….what number CAN be believed.
    If the machines were unsecured, this election cannot stand.

    Comment: Andy Holleman – 18. April 2012 @ 9:27 pm

  3. I agree with Andy above. I do not trust the Diebold machines and think we should get rid of them. This election is full of questions that cannot be answered.

    Comment: Robyn Lauster – 19. April 2012 @ 9:28 pm

  4. I read and thought as you suggested and now comment. I agree that the assembly, and the clerk, own the election. Both from what you said and by the fact that those are the only ones in charge of running an election. whining about a retired election worker does nothing but deflect blame. A competent clerk would have made the same decision and then ‘Planned’ what to do next election, something I think was missing. you never mentioned the Election Committee in the assembly. They seem to be missing in action also. If they are not doing anything then why is there the committee? The election workers manual has procedures to work with balky Diebold machined. There are two paper tapes run on each machine at the end of the election day and signed by all the workers. This and other steps seem to insure accuracy. All ballots are numbered and counted so that there are none lost or counterfeit ones put in. Every election suffers anomalies. The mathematical certainty of say a 20 point spread makes me not worry about the results, certify them. Then put in place measures to insure sufficient ballots are handed out the morning of the next election.

    Comment: Richard Braun – 19. April 2012 @ 11:26 pm

  5. Thank you for your explanation. I think there are too many open questions to responsibly certify the election. We need to answer those questions first, and the only way I can see that happening is to hand count the results and complete an audit of the election. It might be possible to start with the a couple of precincts that were believed to be problematic and a couple of precincts that were not considered problematic. If the questions can be reliably answered by this limited approach then it could be a win from a cost savings and timing perspective. That should be the minimum…if we cannot answer the questions reliably then we still cannot certify the election, at least not legitimately, without a full hand count.

    Mark Lurtsema

    Comment: Mark Lurtsema – 03. May 2012 @ 11:24 am

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