Bill protects voters from election workers' mistakes

Posted: Thursday, February 15, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A bill protecting voters from some election workers' mistakes passed the House State Affairs Committee on Thursday.

House Bill 109 by Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, would allow an absentee or questioned ballot to count even if an election worker failed to sign it.

Rynnieva Moss, an aide to Coghill, said a voter in his district filled out a questioned ballot in the November general election and was notified by mail later that it wasn't counted because the election worker hadn't signed the envelope containing it.

The bill would make it clear that absentee and questioned ballots count as long as voters fill out their part of the ballot correctly.

''We want to make sure the voter has the best benefit of any doubt,'' Coghill said.

Gail Fenumiai, a legislative liaison with the Division of Election, said the division supports the bill.

The problem is rare, she said. Out of almost 51,000 absentee and 22,000 questioned ballots cast in November, three were disqualified because an election official's signature was missing, she said.

''We really don't want to see the voter penalized for that either,'' Fenumiai said.

Questioned ballots are those cast when election workers aren't sure a voter meets the qualifications to vote. Common reasons voters would need to cast a questioned ballot include voting outside their precinct or forgetting to bring identification to their polling place, Fenumiai said.

Some committee members were worried the bill might create opportunities for election fraud.

Fenumiai said she believes enough other safeguards exist to protect against fraud in the few cases that a ballot would be counted without an election worker's signature.

For instance, voters must sign the ballot registry in their polling place and they receive the ballot from an election worker. The number of ballots issued is checked against the number of signatures on the registry at the end of the night. Those registries also alert election workers if someone tried to vote twice, Fenumiai said.

A bipartisan canvassing board also checks each questioned ballot when it meets after the election, she said.

The bill now goes to the House Rules Committee, which schedules bills for a House vote.

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