Carol Beecher, the new director of the Alaska Division of Elections, speaks during a news conference on Thursday at the Alaska State Capitol. Beecher’s appointment as director was announced a day earlier by Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom, who participated in a Thursday news conference by phone. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)

Carol Beecher, the new director of the Alaska Division of Elections, speaks during a news conference on Thursday at the Alaska State Capitol. Beecher’s appointment as director was announced a day earlier by Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom, who participated in a Thursday news conference by phone. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)

New elections director says political ties won’t affect her work

Carol Beecher, a GOP donor, declines to say if she believes recent elections were fairly conducted

Alaska’s new elections director says she can’t say definitively if the 2020 presidential election was fairly conducted and her knowledge of the state’s ranked choice voting system is limited to her experience as a layperson casting a ballot last year. She’s also a registered Republican who’s donated to several of her party’s candidates and organizations, but says none of that will affect her ability to impartially and lawfully oversee elections operations.

Carol Beecher, at a press briefing on her second day as the director of the Division of Elections, faced a barrage of questions about her political leanings and relevant experience after working as an administrator at the state Child Support Services Division the past 11 years, including nine as the director. She said her child support work involved dealing with a complex set of laws and often-unhappy residents.

“My political leanings and philosophy don’t play into the decisions I make because when you’re working for a state division you have to be impartial,” she said.

Beecher replaces Gail Fenumiai, who retired late last year after 20 years at the elections division. Fenumiai, who was carefully neutral in her public remarks and made no known political contributions as director, said when she departed that countering election misinformation was among her biggest and most frustrating recent challenges.

The new director donated to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, and to the campaigns of Dunleavy and U.S. Senate hopeful Kelly Tshibaka in 2022. Tshibaka previously served as the commissioner of the state Department of Administration. Beecher has also donated to Republican Party organizations in the state.

While she said she believes Joe Biden was legally elected president in 2020, she also left open the issue of whether the applicable laws in various states were fair.

“I believe that President Biden was elected, and it was according to law and requirements of various states, but I don’t know enough of what happened in those various states,” she said.

Alaska conducted its first ranked choice elections in 2022, which resulted in allegations of impropriety among some of the losing candidates and their supporters. Beecher, as with the 2020 election, declined to state definitively if she considers the allegations false.

“I’m not going to state an opinion on any of that. It’s really is not germane to my position as director,” she said, adding “I don’t know. I wasn’t there.”

Beecher offered similar thoughts when asked if Dominion voting machines the state uses are trustworthy. Widespread unsupported claims have been made nationally and in Alaska the machines were rigged or hacked.

“I don’t know enough about those yet,” she said about the machines. “I do want to look into that and see if there are any issues going forward.”

One problem that did arise during last year’s elections was ballots from numerous rural communities not being counted due to mail delivery and other problems. Beecher said she isn’t familiar enough yet with that situation to state what remedies the division might seek to implement.

In 2024, Beecher could preside over an election that year where a repeal of ranked choice voting is on the ballot. Among the leading organizers of the effort is Tshibaka who, after losing her race last November to incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, formed a new nonprofit organization called Preserve Democracy that helping with petition and other efforts to overturn the voting system.

Among the other lead organizers is former Gov. Sarah Palin, who also was defeated in a congressional race last year, who Beecher worked for as a scheduler when Palin was governor. But Beecher said she hasn’t maintained contact with Palin and, while planning to remain registered as a Republican, will not be involved in any form of advocacy.

“I will not be donating,” Beecher said. “I will not be participating in political situations at all.”

Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom, who appointed Beecher, said she won’t disclose the number of candidates considered or their identities, but felt as child support services director Beecher proved highly capable of maintaining neutrality and integrity in a complex regulatory setting. Dahlstrom said Beecher was among the candidates invited to submit resumes for the election director’s job, and that some people currently in the elections division were considered as well.

“There’s some fantastic people within the department,” Dahlstrom said. “Some of them weren’t interested, others I think maybe a few years down the road with more experience they might be perfectly good candidates.”

Dahlstrom said she was unaware of donations to her campaign with Dunleavy by Beecher — or any other person considered for the job — because she didn’t check for such information.

Beecher grew up in a logging camp on Zarembo Island in Southeast Alaska, graduated from Wrangell High School and has a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Alaska Anchorage, according to the lieutenant governor’s office. She began working for the state in 2005 under several Republican elected officials, including an internship with former state Sen. John Coghill and her work for Palin.

• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

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