A shortage of ballots in Tuesday's municipal election led to chaos and dissatisfaction among voters at polling places around town and has spurred a review by the city attorney to see whether the problems impact the validity of the election.
Some voters said they scurried from polling place to polling place trying to find a ballot. Some gave up.
How many polling stations ran out of ballots, at least temporarily? That's not yet known. The extent of the shortage, and its effect on the election, still was being assessed as of Wednesday evening, City Clerk Barbara Gruenstein said. The clerk's office runs municipal elections.
Officials say they believe everyone should have had a chance to vote, though they might have had to wait for city workers to ferry ballots or go to another polling spot.
"We were all driving ballots out as fast as we could," said Gruenstein. "I don't think there's any irregularities there. Because we were on everything."
Tuesday's election included votes for mayor, school board and a hotly contested and emotional gay-rights ballot measure.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska also is looking into voter concerns and has established a hot line, 263-2015, for people to call in with issues. The ACLU is gathering information to determine whether it needs to take action, said executive director Jeffrey Mittman, a supporter of the gay-rights measure, which failed.
"We want to be aware of whether there were irregularities to the extent that voters were disenfranchised," he said.
So far, there's no evidence the election should be ruled invalid, said municipal attorney Dennis Wheeler.
"We'll go through the process of the review and advise the clerk's office and the Assembly accordingly," he said.
City officials couldn't say whether bad information put out by opponents of the gay-rights measure, telling people they could register to vote on Tuesday then cast a ballot, played a role. That's not the focus of the review, officials said.
None of the contests were close, meaning even if some people were unable to vote, the outcome likely didn't change, Wheeler said.
"At this point, we're just trying to get a handle on the election," Gruenstein said. "We had allegations of all kinds of things."
The clerk's office is examining each precinct to figure out which ones ran out of ballots and how each precinct handled the shortage.
TURNOUT STILL UNKNOWN
Overall, the city had plenty of ballots -- almost 143,000 -- for a turnout that Gruenstein said could be "unprecedented." The city charter requires it to print enough ballots for 70 percent of the registered voters, and it did, she said. Not all the ballots were distributed to polling stations because some went to absentees or for early voting, she said.
On Tuesday, nearly 55,000 ballots were run through voting machines, representing about 27 percent of the registered voters. Many more ballots were cast, but the city can't say just how many yet, Gruenstein said. The 55,000 figure doesn't include thousands of absentee ballots or those of people who voted early or on a questioned ballot. The count also doesn't include votes on paper sample ballots, which were used when polling places ran out of ballots on hard card stock. Those paper ballots can't be fed into the voting machines.
People whose name for whatever reason isn't on the printed voter roll vote questioned ballots, which are put into envelopes with their name, address and identifying information on the outside. They are only counted if the city Election Commission determines the voter is qualified.