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Reports of Anchorage Proposition 5′s demise are premature

Bent Alaska: Opponents knew they were spreading false information
By Mel Green
Special to LGBTQ Nation
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
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Headlines which announce the failure of Proposition 5 are premature, according to Bent Alaska, an Anchorage-based LGBT community website. Proposition 5 would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the Anchorage Equal Rights non-discrimination code.

According to Bent Alaska, unanticipated voter turnout and voting irregularities were caused by misinformation sent out by Proposition 5 opponent Jim Minnery, and have left a cloud over election results. Following is their report, by Editor Mel Green.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In spite of the Anchorage Daily News headline “Voters reject sexual orientation initiative”, it’s far from clear that voters have in fact done so.

Two hours before voting ended last night, numerous polling places had run out of ballots. Staff of the municipal clerk’s office was sent scurrying all over town bringing additional ballots and even additional envelopes for questioned ballots.  Thousands of unanticipated questioned ballots were cast, some of them by voters who had been forced to stand in line waiting to vote, others by voters who might, according to Municipal Clerk Barbara Gruenstein, not even be qualified to vote in this election. There were scattered reports of some voters being turned away from the polls.  And questions abounded.

Questioned ballots abounded, too. By night’s end, the municipal clerk’s office was left with an unknown number of questioned ballots, and had no real idea of how long it might take to examine them and count the valid ones. Absentee ballots (including early voting ballots), which were also used in high numbers, had also not been counted.  Absentee and question ballots will be counted on April 13.

Will those ballots be enough to tip the scale in favor of Proposition 5? We don’t know. We also don’t know who much they might affect other races.

And again, the questions abound: how did this situation come to be? might the election be challenged? is there any basis for those whispers about possible fraud?

Anchorage elections normally have a fairly low voter turnout. Mayoral elections — which this one was — tend to have slightly higher turnouts. According to Alaska Dispatch, the last mayoral election had a 30 percent turnout, compared with 23 percent and 20 percent in recent non-mayoral years.

But this year’s turnout was unprecedented, at a level no one could have foreseen.  Or so we’d might like to assume.

Minnery’s misinformation

On Tuesday, we reported that an administrator of Jim Minnery’s Protect Your Rights – Vote NO on 5 Facebook page posted the following notice:

Attention Young People or First Time Voters – YOU CAN REGISTER AND VOTE AT THE SAME LOCATION TODAY !! It is super easy. Take a few minutes TODAY and stop by a polling station, register to vote (all you need is your AK driver’s license) and cast a NO Vote on Prop. 5. We really need you to vote. Tell at least 3 of your friends how easy it is.

Click on the MyNeighborhood link below to find your polling place. Once in MyNeighborhood type in your address, then use the Political pull down menu. A map with your polling place location, street address, and Assembly representatives will be displayed.

http://neighborhood.muni.org/

The post has since been removed from the “Protect Your Rights” Facebook wall.  However, Bent Alaska took a screenshot of the post and all comments as of 10:42 AM on April 3, which can be read in this linked document.

The first comment on the post was a correction from a Proposition 5 supporter, Joseph A Connors, who wrote:

Umm – actually Jim – REGISTRATION CLOSED 30 DAYS AGO – see: http://www.muni.org/Departments/Assembly/Clerk/Elections/Pages/VoterRegistration.aspx – “you must register to vote or update your registration no later than 30 days before an election.” You really need to stop providing bad information to the public.

A Prop 5 opponent retorted:

Hey Joe go to your pervert website and help them!

No apparent effort was made by Protect Your Rights to correct the information based on Joseph A Connor’s accurate info or other commenters’ corrections with citation to Municipal voting information. As of this writing, Protect Your Rights continues to display another post with misinformation (or see the linked PDF), though differently phrased:

You have until 8:00pm tonite to help us defeat Prop. 5. Have you called a friend, co-worker or family member to remind them to get to the polls ? Did you know that people can register and vote at the same location and it doesn’t even have to be at their precinct location?

This proves to be the same text used in an email sent to the Protect Your Rights mailing list at 1:23 PM on election day. (Click through for the entire email in PDF format.)

Click to enlarge.

The problems begin

KTVA-TV, tipped by Bent Alaska, was the first to report on problems stemming from the Protect Your Rights campaign’s misinformation:

Deputy Municipal Clerk Jacqueline Duke told KTVA because of misinformation election workers have an influx of thousands of questioned ballots coming in.

The problem was caused by the controversial Prop 5 initiative that would add legal protections against discrimination to also include sexual orientation and transgender identity.

The opponents of the proposition, led by the Alaska Family Council’s Jim Minnery, put a message on its “Vote No on Prop 5” website saying people could both register to vote and cast their ballot today.

That is not case as both city and state laws state you have to register at least 30 days before an election for it to count.

Anchorage Daily News reporter Rosemary Shinohara actually talked with Minnery:

Jim Minnery, head of the Protect Your Rights — Vote No on Prop. 5 group, acknowledged sending out an e-mail this week to a couple thousand people on his list that wrongly told people they could register at the polls and vote immediately.

A notice saying the same thing was also posted on the group’s Facebook page Tuesday.

In fact, you have to have registered within 30 days prior to the election to have your vote counted.

An earlier version of that ADN story went into greater detail about Minnery’s explanation for how he came to post the misinformation: Minnery said he had called the municipal clerk’s office and spoken with someone — not Municipal Clerk Barbara Gruenstein, but someone else. The someone else had, according to Minnery, apparently gotten confused about what he had asked about voter registration deadlines, and therefore left him with the impression that the information he later posted on Facebook and emailed to supporters was correct.

While that level detail is missing now from the version of the Shinohara story as it now appears on the Anchorage Daily News website, elements of it appeared in a later story by another ADN reporter, Michelle Theriault Books:

Jim Minnery, the leader of Vote No On Prop. 5, said that he had sent out an alert email and Facebook message saying, incorrectly, that people could register and vote on election day. The information was wrong and a miscommunication with a clerk’s office worker, he said. It wasn’t immediately clear how much of an effect that had on the turnout.

KTUU-TV also talked with Minnery:

While Gruenstein said it wouldn’t be accurate to claim people were trying to “crash” the election, she did say she had reason to believe that people from outside Anchorage were attempting to vote.

Reached for comment Tuesday night, Minnery acknowledged sending the email but denied any conscious plan to crash the election.

“That’s a pretty idiotic strategy,” Minnery said, noting that any improperly cast votes would be nullified when elections officials examined the ballots.

Minnery knew he was spreading false information

But it’s not clear why Minnery contacted the municipal clerk’s office in the first place, since in February he had displayed a very clear understanding of voter registration requirements.  On February 17, in an email to Protect Your Rights supporters, he provided complete information about the deadline for voter registration as well as other important dates related to the election, writing:

It’s Very Simple – If You’re Not Registerd [sic], You Don’t Vote

It’s hard to imagine but many elections are won and lost simply because people don’t take the time to register to vote. The deadline passes, the campaign media blitz occurs and people get fired up to get to the polls to vote but by then, it’s too late. Please don’t let that happen with you or someone you may know.

Click HERE to find out how simple it is to register to vote. Sunday, March 4th is the LAST DAY you can register to vote in the April 3rd Election.

Minnery not only knew the exact deadline for voter registration, but also exactly where to send voters for more information — the same site, in fact, that Joseph A Connors gave to visitors to the Protect Your Rights wall yesterday in his response to Minnery’s misinformation (http://www.muni.org/Departments/Assembly/Clerk/Elections/Pages/VoterRegistration.aspx).

Here’s an image of that portion of Minnery’s February 17 email. You can also click through for the entire email in PDF format.

2012-02-17-minnery-register

Click to enlarge.

One is left with the inescapable conclusion that Minnery lied to the Anchorage Daily News and KTUU Channel 2 News about how he came to give out false information about voter registration.

One is also left with the strong impression that he gave out the misinformation on purpose. What he hoped to gain by doing so is perhaps a matter best left to Municipal Clerk Barbara Gruenstein and other authorities.

But here are some of the effects:
  • Deputy Municipal Clerk Jacqueline Duke told KTVA because of misinformation election workers have an influx of thousands of questioned ballots coming in. (KTVA-TV)
  • Polls are supposed to have closed, with multiple problems reported across Anchorage, including polling places running out of ballots, the ‘No on 5′ supporters trying to register to vote day-of as mentioned below, and a plethora of ‘questioned’ ballots, which will need verified (i.e., not be counted tonight). (KTVA-TV)
  • Anchorage voters headed to the polls Tuesday evening for the municipal elections reported a wave of ballot shortages across the city, leaving some people unable to vote at their polling locations after a proposition opponent wrongly told people they could register and vote on the same day. (KTUU-TV)
  • Election officials didn’t know how many precincts lacked enough ballots, but [deputy municipal clerk Jacqueline] Duke said polling places that normally used 25 questioned ballots were using hundreds of them. (Anchorage Daily News)
  • Anchorage’s election results were left with clouded results and thousands of ballots waiting to be counted late Tuesday evening, in the wake of an erroneous message urging ineligible voters to the polls that caused ballot shortages and saw voters turned away from polling places. (KTUU-TV)
  • People voting in polling places that ran out of ballots had to vote questioned ballots, even after additional ballots arrived, because the extra ballots were not programmed for the voting machines, said deputy city clerk Jacqueline Duke. That means an untold number of votes that normally would be tallied election night weren’t, even for people properly registered, Duke said.

    Election officials didn’t know how many people voted questioned ballots, or even how many people voted altogether, Gruenstein said. (Anchorage Daily News; emphasis added)

  • We think a lot of ballots have been eaten up by people who may not be registered voters…we don’t know, at this point…. We don’t know how many of the questioned ballots will be invalid, but we suspect that there will be quite a few that are, and those would have taken ballots from people who could have voted, so it’s just a shame. (Municipal Clerk Barbara Gruenstein interviewed by KTUU-TV )

An investigation is in order. And perhaps more serious deliberations as well.

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