Bounds letter and State response

Bert Bounds' voters registration letter

I am writing this letter as an Alaskan resident and voter. I own a business and reside year-round in Skagway.

I first became concerned about the veracity of our local registered voters list after several individuals brought to my attention that the number of registered voters exceeded the populace as reported by the state. Over the past few months I have researched applicable documents (copies of registered voters list from the state, local poll data, state statutes, etc.) and discovered that there are currently a minimum of over 200 erroneous entries in the register. I am sure there are many more, but due to time constraints I was not able to complete the process (Time is of the essence due to upcoming election.

In my research (including the past three years of voting records) I learned that the flawed list appears to be attributable to two central areas. It seems apparent that the initial voter registration process is not being done in accordance with the governing administrative codes, state or local statutes and there is no indication of any comprehensive review or maintenance of the local voters list.

Unfortunately for the lawful residents of this town, the above has too often meant that people who are not actual residents of Skagway are allowed to choose our public officials and dictate our administrative policies or processes. Do we really want our local and state elections decided by those who either are transient populace or own seasonal businesses, but do not choose to reside here for the greater part of the year? They take not only their revenue out of the community and state, but also their civic concerns about the well-being of those they leave behind as caretakers of the community. I don't believe this is in the community's or state's best interests (I was also able to ascertain that there are those who are registered local voters who also registered and voted out of state. This practice impacts elections other than local).

When we initially contacted the state agency overseeing elections about these and other concerns, we were told that because we are a populace of less then 1,000 they had no enforcement authority and they could not assist us. It became apparent that we would have to proceed with this process independently of the state's support (Which also serves to dissuade citizens of smaller communities who attempt to ensure the laws are upheld, while encouraging those who continue to breach our lawful election processes).

However, because it is the duty and responsibility of the State of Alaska's public officials to uphold the laws, I am submitting these documents to the addresses and respectfully request this issue be investigated and resolved before our 2003 election.

Yes, I have been a candidate for Council (2002) and at that time was not aware of the "bloated" registered voters count. Even if I had been aware there were people registered and voting unlawfully, I wouldn't able to file a challenge as the state statute AS 15.07.137 cites that the certified list of registered voters is to be completed and filed in 60 days, but yet the candidate (by local ordinance attached) only has until the council meeting to accept canvass returns (usually less than 10 days) to contest the election.

However, I am not writing this in an effort to repair or eradicate transgressions of previous elections. It is obviously too late for that and our goal now is try and ensure that this year's election and registered voters list is a factual representation of our community (and state) residents' edicts.

I have been advised that it is common practice for some seasonal business owners to "encourage" (even offering various incentives) their seasonal employees to register to vote here, then they were "influenced" to vote for their employer's choice of candidate or leanings (favor of or oppoisiton to an issue). Because they can obtain absentee ballots, it isn't even necessary for the individuals to still be in town at the time of election. This practice seems to have been practiced with vigor in the past two years, especially in the election of 2001 (mayor and two council members seats), as verified by the voters records within the community!

This year we will be voting on three new council members and the position of mayor. There are important issues encompassing everything from the "road to Juneau" to local budgetary concerns that the council will be addressing in the next year. I believe that in order for the residents of Skagway to be fairly represented, it is mandatory that we have in place fair and lawful elction processes for this and future elections.

Rural communities need more, not less, protection from the state. Too often, when rural communities are left without needed resources and support of their state, they begin to suffer from the lack of needed oversight and protection. This can result in the loss of the citizen's constitutional rights and the abuse of our democratic processes. This translates to violations of both our Nation's and State's constitution (It is now difficult to recruit citizens to run for office here as most believe that with the current ongoing process, there is little hope of obtianing qualified and fair election returns).

All we're asking for is a lawful and fair election process and for our public officials to support us in upholiding our state and federal laws.

I look forward to hearing from you about this matter.

Sincerely, Bert Bounds

August 1, 2003

(Editor's note: The above letter included several pages of attachments, from state statutes and city codes, to a copy of the voter list with notations next to those whom the author claimed were seasonal residents or no longer resided in Skagway, including some in the military)

Response from Alaska Division of Elections

Thank you for your letter regarding the list of registered voters in Skagway. I completely understand your frustration, but would say that while individuals may not be abiding by the law when they registere and perhaps vote, the Division of Elections does indeed adhere to state and federal law. I don't believe we we the agency that you referred to in your fifth paragraph, and don't want you to believe you need to proceed without the State's support.

The Division begins with the premise that when a voter signs a voter registration form, thereby signing an oath, that voter is indeed declaring that they qualify as a voter under AS 15.05.010. I cannot speak to your claim that seasonal business oweners encourage their employees to register to vote. As you noted, state law allows people to receive absentee ballots who are temporarily out of state. Without notification from another state that a voter has voted in another state, Alaska law allows their vote to be counted.

When a voter provides a physical address, the Division must consider that to be their permanent residence address. It is not within the purview of the Division to question intent, especially when many claim a permanent address and reinforce their intent by retaining their voter registration for the purpose of maintaining residency in order to receive a Permanent Fund Divident check.

Alaska Statute is quite clear on the issue of voter fraud. Two applicable sections are set out below:

Sec. 15.56.040 Voter misconduct in the first degree.

(a) A person commits the crime of voter misconduct in the first degree if the person (1) votes or attempts to vote in the name of another person or in a name other than the person's own; (2) votes or attempts to vote more than once at the same election with the intent that the person's vote be counted more than once; (3) intentionally makes a false affadavit, swears falsely, or falsely affirms under an oath required by this title; (4) knowingly votes or solicits a person to vote after the polls are closed with the intent tha the vote be counted.

(b) Voter misconduct in the first degree is a class C felony.

Section 15.56.050. Voter misconduct in the second degree.

(a) A person commits the crime of voter misconduct in the second degree if the person (1) registers to vote without being entitled to register under AS 15.07.030; (2) knowingly makes a material false statement while applying for voter registration or reregistration; or (3) votes or attempts to vote in an election after being disqualified under AS 15.05.030.

(b) Voter misconduct in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor.

We too are concerned about voter fraud. If you are aware of voter fraud, please contact: Patrick J. Gullufsen, Deputy Attorney General, Criminal Division, P.O. Box 110300, Juneau, Alaska 99811-0300; 907-465-3428.

Review and maintenance of the voter registration lists are done in accordance with the National Voting Rights Act of 1993 (also known as the Motor-Voter Act) and AS 15.07.130. The Division's procedures for "list maintenance" changed dramatically with the federal mandates. The Hickel Administration proposed and the Legislature passed a more rigorous maintenance schedule, but upon review by the Department of Justice, our law was found to be non-compliant. In 1998 the law was rewritten; the current statute is set out below:

Sec. 15.07.130. Voter registration list maintenance.

(a) Periodically, at times of the director's choosing, but no less frequently than in January of each calendar year, the director shall examine the master register maintained under AS 15.07.120 and shall send, by nonforwardable mail to the voter's registration mailing address, a notice requesting address confirmation or correction to each voter (1) whose mail from the division has been returned to the division in the two years immediately preceding the examination of the register; (2) who has not contacted the division in the two years immediately preceding the examination of the register; or (3) who has not voted ot appeard to vote in the two general elections immediately preceding the examination of the register.

(b) If a registered voter has not, within the preceding four calendar years, contacted the division and has neither voted nor appeared to vote in a local, regional school board, primary, special, or general election during the last four calendar years and a notice send to the voter under (a) of this section was returned as undeliverable, the voter shall be advised by a notice sent by forwardable mail to the voter's last known address that registration will be inactivated unless the voter responds to the notice no later than 45 days after the date of the notice sent under this section. The director shall maintain on the master register the name of a voter whose registration is inactivated. The director shall cancel a voter's inactive registration in accordance with the procedures set out in 42 U.S.C. 1973 gg 6 (sec. 8, National Voter Registration Act of 1993) after the second general election that occurs after the registration becomes inactive if the voter does not contact the division or vote or appear to vote.

(c) The director shall obtain from the bureau of vital statistics a certified list of all residents over 18 years of age who have died or who have been presumptively declared dead. Promptly after receipt of such a list, but, in any event, at least once each month, the director shall cancel the registration of all deceased voters.

(d) The notice sent under (b) of this section must include a postage prepaid and pre-addressed return card on which the voter may state the voter's current address. The notice must indicate (1) that the voter should return the card not later than 45 days after the date of the notice if the voter did not change residence; (2) that failure to return the card by the 45-day deadline could result in removal of the voter's name from the official registration list for a subsequent election; (3) that the voter's registration will be canceled if the voter does not contact the division during, or vote or appear to vote in an election held during, the period beginning on the date of the notice and ending on the day after the last day of the fourth calendar year that occurs after the date of notice; and (4) how the voter can continue to be eligible to vote if the voter has changed residence.

(e) For purposes of (b) and (d) of this section, a voter "appears to vote" if (1) the voter is present at a polling place or at an absentee voting station at a time when the polling place or absentee voting station is operating, for the purpose of casting a vote; (2) the voter applies to the division to obtain and absentee ballot; or (3) in an election conducted by mail under AS 15.20.800, a voter who has not received a ballot by mail makes a timely request to the division for a ballot.

(f) For the purpose of this section, a voter "contacts" the division if the voter notifies the division of a change of address, responds to a notice sent under this section, signs a petition for a ballot measure, requests a new voter registration card, or otherwise communicates with the division other than to vote or register to vote.

As you can see, the law provides very broad standards as to who should remain on the voter registration list. Many have expressed concerns about the number of voters registered vs. the actual census figures for Alaskans over 18 years of age. Federal mandates require the State to allow a registered voter to remain on the list while requiring the State to also extend additional notice and ooportunity to voters who do not vote, make contact with the Division, or sign a petition. Still, in March of 2003, the Division, in accordance with the law, completed a purge of inactive voters on the registration list and approximately 19,000 names were removed from the statewide list.

Lieutenant Governor Leman has asked me to work with the Department of Justice to see if there are possible changes to our laws that would still meet federal standards, but help the State provide more accurate lists, and I have spoken to many legislators who also support the idea.

Thank you again for raising the questions and asking for a solution. I hope this addresses some of your concerns.

Sincerely, Laura A. Glaiser, Director

August 21, 2003