New election mess?


Vince Beltrami campaign

Alaska’s strange election season of 2016 got even stranger on Friday with the website Must Read Alaska reporting a state Senate candidate might have vaulted onto the November ballot despite his failure to clear a key legal hurdle.

“When Vince Beltrami filed signatures to run as an independent candidate, he came up short. He had 70 verified signatures. He needed 170,” Suzanne Downing reported on the website.  “But the Division of Elections certified Beltrami anyway, ignoring state law.”

Reached by telephone late Friday afternoon, Beltrami said he thought he submitted about 100 signatures. He could not remember exactly how many. He had not heard of the complaint raised about his filing.

His recollection was that the state Division of Elections told him he needed 70, but that he collected about 25 percent more.

The law itself says a candidate needs the signatures of qualified voters “equal in number to at least 1 percent of the number of voters who cast ballots in the proposed nominee’s respective house or senate district in the preceding general election,” but no less than 50 signatures no matter how small the voter turnout.

Beltrami, a Democrat-leaning independent, is challenging Republican incumbent Sen. Cathy Giessel in Senate District N where about 17,000 votes were cast in the last general election. One percent of that would be 170.

Beltrami admitted he was not intimately familiar with the filing requirements and counted on the advice of state elections officials to tell him how many signatures he needed to qualify.

Struggling election division

The Beltrami case puts the Division of Elections once more back in the news. It has had some problems under new director Josie Bahnke. Lt. Govenor Byron Mallott, a long time Democrat, picked her in late July to replace Gail Fenumiai, who resigned after summer disagreements with the administration of Gov. Bill Walker and Mallott.

Fenumiai spent 10 years working for the election division before taking over as director in 2008. Bahnke stepped in with no experience running elections. At the time of her appointment, she was the city manager of Nome, the community of 3,800 on the edge of the Bering Sea at the north end of the Iditarod Trail.

Under Bahnke’s leadership, the division of elections ended up in court after voters in the Northwest Alaska village of Shungnak were allowed to vote both Republican and Democrat primary ballots in violation of state law. The key race in the region was for the state House where Democrat Dean Westlake from Kotzebue was challenging incumbent Democrat Ben Nageak from Barrow.

There was no Republican entered in the race, meaning the primary outcome would decide the election. None of the Republican primary ballots were counted in Shungnak. All of the Democrat primary ballots were counted. Westlake carried the village  48-2. He then won the district-wide election by only seven votes.

Nageak sued, citing the problem in Shugnak and problems elsewhere in District 40. A state Superior Court judge ruled there was malconduct in Shungnak and then came up with a complicated plan for trying to figure out how the vote might have gone if the votes had split along historic D-R lines in the village. The recount after that gave an election victory to Nageak.

The state appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed the decision in a brief, two-page opinion and gave Nageak the win. It has yet to publish its full written opinion explaining why. Justice Daniel Winfree took up most of the second page of the original ruling  with his dissenting and concurring opinion in which he said that in his “view the Superior Court correctly determined that – as to the primary election in the Shugnak precinct – the Division of Elections committed malconduct that could have affected the election result….”

And now comes what could be a lack of election oversight in seeing to it that a candidate meets the minimum bar for entering a race.

Not that anyone believes Beltrami would have had much trouble in obtaining the extra signatures if he’d been required to do so. It’s a lot easier to obtain signatures than to raise the cash necessary to win elections. And Beltrami, a former journalist turned labor leader turned politician, had at last report raised about $200,000 to fuel his effort to topple Geissel in a hotly contested race in a district that includes the Anchorage Hillside.

He has run an interesting campaign focused heavily on claiming Geissel has unfairly accused him of this and that. The tactic makes it possible for him to portray himself a victim while attacking her. Political pollsters say the race is at the moment too close to call.





12 replies »

  1. The regulations say, “A complaint regarding the eligibility of a candidate must be received by the director not later than the close of business on the 10th day after the filing deadline for the office for which the candidate seeks election.”

    That was June 1, five months ago. There is zero chance a court would throw his candidacy out.

    See 6 AAC 25.260. Complaints regarding eligibility of a candidate

    • couldn’t agree more, Bill; there’s no court in this country (hopefully) that would hold a candidate for office responsible for the mistake of a state elections agency. but it sure does raise some questions about the Division of Elections.

      • That makes it virtually impossible to challenge, as it may take more than ten days to certify petitions. What about all the would be candidates that were given faulty staff advice which torpedoed their campaigns before they started?

  2. This is a classic “October Surprise” against Mr. Beltrami; however, Mr. Beltrami understands the importance of a contract specification and a requirement for the the proper number of signatures is nothing less than a contract specification. An objective and competent Division of Elections should have noticed this problem immediately and informed Beltrami as the Division should have done more to pursue information regarding presidential candidates and to obtain opposition statements to the Ballot Measures. Unfortunately, Lt. Governor Mallot has now turned the Division of Elections into a partisan political entity staffed by his political allies and that is a sad day for Alaskans.

  3. He must be disqualified immediately! Follow the law, like the rest of us have to do. All of our candidates had to go out, collect and submit the required number of signatures. We surely aren’t being given any leeway regarding election laws. If the basic election laws are continually breached, the government is illegitimate. All bets off. J.R.Myers, Chairman Alaska Constitution Party

    • yes, J.R., but is it really fair to penalize the people for things the government did? if, in fact, he did as the Division of Elections told him is it his fault or their fault?

      • Ignorance of the law is no excuse. It’s not that hard to figure out how many signatures were needed. That’s a disingenuous argument. The people are harmed when their is this kind of lawlessness. There should have been both an Alaska Constitution Party and a Democrat Party camdidate running against Chenault in HD 30. They were both given erroneous information by State staff. Should they be on the ballot now? You can’t have it both ways. It’s sadly amusing how both the Ds & Rs whine and complain how unfair it all is when they write, interpret and execute the rules.

  4. Sounds like Mallott appoints people to jobs the same way Palin did – no experience required.

  5. I’m no Cathy Giessel fan. She has said lots of things and has taken stands that make you question her motives and intelligence.

    But let’s get real. The State is bleeding money, several billions of dollars a year. Yes, billions with a “B”. We have a Governor that left us for a gas line fantasy fling, and he has no backbone or interest to tackle cutting state bureaucracy. We have legislators that fight for the status quo and buy new office buildings for themselves. We have a hot mess on our hands, a mess that few can fathom.

    So how is electing the head of the state public union mafia, Beltrami, going to help this situation? It’s not. It will only ensure that Alaska doesn’t reach a fiscal solution that makes sense, before it is too late and our economy tanks and there is a mass migration out of Alaska. Preserving state union jobs that we can’t afford is not what we need to do now. We need to downsize to a $40 oil government.

    Beltrami will be a self-serving road block on Alaska’s road to fiscal recovery. Giessel is the lesser of the two evils.

  6. The Democrats have developed a formula for when they take over a government from Republicans or even from less leftist Democrats. First, they fire every Republican political appointee and any appointee who has ever had a Republican thought; if an appointee survives a transition from a Republican to a Democrat administration, s/he is a traitor who has performed some great service for the Democrats. The government of Alaska has an ample crop of people who will pay any price and bear any burden to keep an appointive job. It’s legal to just fire them all the second the new Governor is sworn in, and Republicans should do much more of it than they do. If I ever come back to State government nobody appointed to a partially exempt or exempt position by a Democrat administration will survive a new Republican Governor’s hand coming off The Bible. And just for the record, I’d only come back with an administration that would give me that power; I have a list and I’ve checked it twice – at least. Some of them are apolitical subject matter experts, so after they miss a paycheck or two to restore their loyalty and perspective, you let them kiss the ring and come back. The rest get to lose their houses, boats, airplanes, vacation homes and boy/girlfriends; you don’t get to have that sort of stuff in temporary jobs with no appeal rights unless you had it before you took the appointment.

    Then the Democrats work the hit lists provided to them by their various constituencies. If you’re a supervisor or manager who has gotten cross-threaded with some important Democrat constituency, you’re either going to be fired or the best you can hope for is an office with no windows, a seat that flushes, and no phone or email. Some can stand that for four or eight years, but most wind up wearing a blue vest pretty quickly. And forget that silly stuff about union contracts and merit system rules; it was probably the union that put you on the hit list, so only if you can afford a private attorney, and most won’t oppose the State, do you have any hope of vindication. Bruce Bothello was personally going around and administering the coup d’grace to lowly deputy director types I’m told. And you haven’t lived through Hell until you’ve beaten the State and forced them to take you back; take the money.

    Then, they go after the direct reports to political appointees who survived the hit lists. These are the high-level merit system supervisors, managers, and technicians; the people who know how the State is supposed to work and who keep it running. Most are State Range 20 – 23, a good job and if you worked your way up to one through the classified service, you know your job and you’ve paid your dues. Though they love to tout their wonderfulness, the government runs in spite of political appointees, not because of them. They’re a little more reticent to just fire these people because they’re merit system and union, but only a little; if they really want you and the union backed the administration, you’re toast; the most you get is a charade arbitration, which of course the union loses. When I became director in ’03, I actually sought out a few that had been thrown overboard during Knowles and offered them their jobs back. Most had seen all they wanted of the State, but a few came back and some even survived, or at least were still there when I left in ’06. They then replace all these people with Democrat apparatchiks or kids who don’t know what they don’t know. Last I checked everybody in Elections was exempt, so who knows what if any qualifications other than knowing somebody any of them have. I know that when I came back to the Executive Branch in late ’99, I had only a couple of people who even resembled being proficient in the job they were supposed to be doing, and they were supposed to be merit system. You can rest assured that it wasn’t some lowly clerk that decided Beltrami’s petition was sufficient, but in the unlikely event it blows up on them, the lowly clerk will take the fall for it; they’re a dime a dozen.

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