House passes bill protecting voters from workers' mistakes

Posted: Thursday, February 22, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state House passed a bill Wednesday that would protect voters from some election workers' mistakes.

The bill allows absentee or questioned ballots to be counted even if they don't have the required signatures from an election worker.

Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, introduced House Bill 109 after hearing from a voter in his district who cast a questioned ballot in November and later learned it didn't count because an election worker forgot to sign the ballot envelope. Coghill said voters shouldn't be penalized if they've done everything right.

''It's a pretty tough thing to get an envelope back in the mail saying, 'Your vote didn't count because an election official made a mistake,''' Coghill said.

Rep. John Davies, D-Fairbanks, said he initially hesitated to support the bill because of concerns it could open the door to election fraud, but changed his mind after spending an hour talking with Division of Elections officials about other safeguards against fraud.

''I'm satisfied they have enough checks and balances in the system,'' Davies said.

The Division of Elections supports the bill. Gail Fenumiai, a legislative liaison with the division, said the division will continue requiring officials to sign envelopes containing absentee or questioned ballots, but the law would allow those votes to count in the few cases where election workers slip up.

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, Fenumiai said.

Other safeguards against fraud include a requirement that voters sign the ballot registry in their polling place and receive their ballots from election workers. The number of ballots issued is checked against the number of signatures on the registry at the end of the night.

The registries also alert election workers if a person tries to vote twice in different precincts, Fenumiai said.

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

The bill passed the House 38-0. It now goes to the Senate.

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