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Anchorage Mayor Requests Audit, Records for 2022 Election

Mayor Dave Bronson has launched an inquiry into the municipal election that occurred last month, in part based upon security complaints from conservative candidates. Critics see the move as an attempt to undermine the election process.

(TNS) — Anchorage, Alaska, Mayor Dave Bronson is launching an inquiry into the municipality's 2022 election, calling for an audit of election technology and requesting a trove of records from the city clerk. The mayor is asking questions in part based on a series of complaints lodged by conservative candidates he supported.

Their complaints focused on election security, drawing on the fervor of doubt in elections sown by former President Donald Trump and his supporters in recent years and following Bronson's own calls for the city to revert to in-person voting from the mail-in system implemented in 2018.

Anchorage's municipal clerk, in various responses to the complaints, found no widespread issues or any that would impact election results. The city's election commission has said it found that any mistakes or issues are "fairly minor" and unlikely to change election outcomes.

Bronson on Friday sent a lengthy records request and inquiry to Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones, Acting Deputy Clerk of Elections Jamie Heinz and the Anchorage Election Commission. In it, he called for a "technical litmus test and forensic audit of the election technology," which he said would be paid for by the mayor's office. It would be conducted by a "third-party, independent and reputable technology company from out-of-state" in order to "further promote integrity and confidence in the election process" — similar to previous efforts by Republican leaders who launched audits in several states following the 2020 presidential election.

While Bronson wrote that he is raising questions about matters pertaining to "the sanctity of this election," he also included a sentence in bold-face type at the bottom of all six pages of his inquiry and records request: "Disclaimer: Mayor Bronson and his administration are not questioning the results of the election."

Some Assembly members are bristling at the mayor's inquiry.

"It feels very much in line with this whole national effort to sow disbelief, to sow doubt in the fundamental cornerstone of our electoral system, where no evidence exists," Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said.

Constant also called the disclaimer Bronson included in his inquiry "absurd."

"Every other word on the page, except those words, say just the opposite," Constant said of the mayor's letter.

During this year's race, Bronson fought a largely losing battle as he aimed to replace four moderate-to-liberal-leaning incumbents with a slate of conservative candidates. Voters ousted only one of the incumbent Assembly members.

The mayor in his letter said that during the election, his office "fielded widespread questions and concerns related to the voting process."

Bronson cited five issues reported to the mayor's office by election observers, by members of the public and via complaints from campaigns lodged with the clerk's office, asking a series of questions about each and requesting copies of records related to each.

His concerns included reports received by the mayor's office that ballots had not arrived in a timely manner to voters, and he questioned whether ballots were mailed on time in accordance with city code.

The clerk on April 25 had issued a memo to the Elections Commission that addresses four of the complaints from campaigns, including some concerns that Bronson referenced in his inquiry.

For example, ballots were mailed on time and the clerk resolved an issue with the U.S. Postal Service that caused some to arrive at homes later than anticipated, according to another letter from the clerk, included with the memo. The clerk's office investigated other issues and explained situations raised in the complaints and found no impact to the election's results, according to the memo.

Other concerns Bronson described in his letter include so-far unsubstantiated reports from campaigns that some residents never received their ballots in the mail — a concern the city clerk has examined with USPS and at this point has found no issue.

City Clerk Jones, in her memo, said "... the staff cannot identify any of these complaints that allege a violation of law or that would change the result of the election."

The Anchorage Elections Commission, which advises the Assembly and city clerk on the conduct of elections, also reviewed the four complaints from campaigns during its Public Session of Canvass. (Bronson recently appointed three members to the commission with Assembly confirmation.)

The commission, in its report on the election, wrote an addendum addressing the complaints: "... we conclude that any mistakes made or other informalities are unintentional, are fairly minor, and alleged failures of the Election Team to comply with provisions of law are unlikely to change the outcomes of any of the candidate races or issues on the ballot."

Still, the commission said it takes the complaints seriously, "especially the report that the USPS may not have timely delivered all of the ballots entrusted to it for voters in the Sand Lake/Jewel Lake area."

The city clerk, in her memo to the commission, said all evidence from the postal service indicates the ballots were delivered and received by USPS.

The commission said it plans to provide further comments about the election to the Assembly and mayor after reviewing additional voting data.

It is not yet clear whether the city clerk will agree to the mayor's call for an audit. In response to a question about when the public should expect an answer, Deputy Elections Clerk Heinz said, "I am unable to answer this question at this time," also noting that "city code provides that the municipal clerk prepares for, conducts, and supervises all municipal elections."

A spokesman for the mayor's office, Corey Allen Young, did not provide a cost estimate and said the administration is still "working out the details" on a third-party company to conduct it.

Bronson's call for an audit largely hinges on a visit from a technician on the last day of vote tabulation, during which the man "appeared to open, connect cablers to, insert USB stick in/or edit software" on the city's Dominion Voting System machines, Bronson's letter states.

Election officials had requested a visit from the election center's maintenance contractor after there was an issue with the system reporting votes of write-in candidates in four of the limited road service area races, according to the clerk's memo. The contractor was able to correct the error so the votes were reported accurately, according to the memo.

The municipal clerk is currently away on vacation, and it's not yet clear to what capacity or when the mayor's records request will be filled.

"The Municipal Clerk's Office and the Elections Team take public records requests very seriously and are currently looking into how best to gather the requested information," Heinz said in an emailed statement. "... Due to the vast size of this request, and because it falls outside of the standard process for reviewing and responding to election inquiries, it will take time for us to determine the exact method, timeline and scope of response."

In another part of Bronson's efforts to reshape how municipal elections are performed, the mayor has called for the municipal clerk's position to become an elected office, rather than one overseen by the Anchorage Assembly. That proposal came in December, as Trump-aligned conservatives in other parts of the country also took steps to target the bureaucracy and mechanisms of elections at all levels.

Last year, Bronson won a contentious mayoral election and runoff race, during which the municipal clerk reported "unprecedented harassment" of election officials from election observers and "the dissemination of disinformation to sow distrust among voters."

During that election's ballot processing, Bronson's campaign parked an RV outside the elections center to monitor activity there 24/7. Campaign observers for conservative candidates employed a similar strategy this year.

Still, elections officials have said they did not experience the same harassment or tense atmosphere this year that sometimes plagued last year's city election. Officials attributed the difference to several changes the Assembly made to city election code late last year in response to the clerk's report. While the city generally tweaks and improves election code every year, the changes were preceded by acrimonious testimony from some residents and opposed by Bronson, who at the time said the changes would undermine public trust and confidence in city elections.


(c)2022 the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage, Alaska) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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