Alaska Editorial: Makes sure election workers are well trained

  • Wednesday, September 7, 2016 1:03am
  • Opinion

The following editorial first appeared in the Peninsula Clarion:

Some of the hand wringing over voting irregularities in the Aug. 16 primary election has been a little over the top. But some of it has been deserved.

Chief among concerns is that in a northern Alaska district, voters were given both the Republican ballot and the Democratic, Libertarian and Independence party ballot, rather than selecting one or the other.

Election officials say the snafu didn’t affect the outcome of the election because candidates only appear on one of the two ballots. The race in question involves two Democrats, incumbent state Rep. Ben Nageak, and challenger Dean Westlake, who unofficially leads by 21 votes.

There were no state House candidates on the Republican ballot. So why is the Alaska Republican Party suggesting an election do-over? Of note is that the incumbent in that race caucuses with the House Republican majority. So they have a rooting interest in the outcome, so to speak.

Officials from the state Democratic Party, which backed the challenger, responded that there is no evidence that a new vote is necessary and asserted that the Republican Party is overstepping its bounds and meddling in the Democratic primary. A swing in numbers between the House majority and minority caucuses will have an impact in the next Legislature, so the Democrats have a rooting interest, too.

The truth is probably somewhere in between. Certainly, the positions of the Republican and Democratic parties are politically motivated. Some things will never change.

However, we don’t like hearing that election results might not be reliable.

Yes, Alaska’s primary election has become a bit more complicated since it’s been conducted by party rules. Many voters arrive at polling stations unsure of what ballot they can choose; we expect the poll workers to know the answer.

In this day and age, we already have enough to worry about with concerns about voter fraud — substantiated or not — and election system hacks. And Alaska, with far-flung polling stations, poses enough challenges in conducting a statewide election. Failing to staff polling places with properly trained workers is simply unacceptable.

During a hearing last week, Division of Elections Director Josie Bahnke told lawmakers that election worker training had been retooled this year in an effort to save money.

We hope those training efforts are revisited before the Nov. 8 general election. There’s enough in politics to argue about already; the last thing we want to argue about is whether the election has been conducted correctly in the first place.

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