Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Rejected ballots a concern


Some voters who did not mark a preference on all portions of Tuesday’s ballot were surprised when the tally machine spit their ballots back out.

The machine is programmed to eject any ballot that’s not completed. For example, if a voter filled in a circle for only one assembly candidate – even though two seats were open – the machine ejected the ballot with the alert, “undervoted race.”

Election officials then told those voters they hadn’t completed the entire ballot and that they could vote for two assembly members, three school board members and one proposition. A voter could then choose to reenter the voting booth and fill the remainder of the ballot, or cast the incomplete ballot.

Officials placed a folder over the machine so they could not see who or what the person was voting for.

Some voters were upset by the process and claimed it violated privacy, as other nearby voters and election officials would then know they had chosen to not mark a preference on some portions of their ballot.

When the machine rejected John Winge’s ballot around 6 p.m. Tuesday, he resented the implication that he had somehow voted incorrectly.

“I filled out the ballot exactly how I wanted it. I don’t need people telling me how to vote,” Winge said.

“They shouldn’t know how someone is voting,” he added. “That’s wrong. I couldn’t believe it.”

Winge said an official didn’t tell him he had to completely fill out the ballot, but only asked if he would like to. His wife Darnell Winge was asked the same question, he said.

Election official Jeannette Heinrich said of the voters she encountered whose ballots were spit back, about half elected to submit them as-is and half returned to the voting booth.

Heinrich said that to her knowledge, the vote-tally machines always have returned incomplete ballots.

Election official Leslee Downer called the mechanism a “fail safe” to ensure those who want to fill their ballot out entirely are given as much an opportunity to do so as possible.

Clerk Julie Cozzi said in an interview Wednesday she didn’t know why people have become concerned in 2013, as the machines have been programmed to behave that way at least since she became clerk in 2003.

“I don’t know why they have that concern, because nothing has changed,” she said. “It’s really just to assist the voter if they don’t follow the directions.”

Cozzi said she is investigating the possibility of reprogramming the machine for future elections.

“There’s not a requirement that we have it programmed to reject it if it is undervoted, and we want to investigate the possibility of maybe next year not having it do that, so the voter has to make sure (they follow the directions),” Cozzi said.

The machines came into use here about a decade ago. Previously, ballots were made locally and tallied by hand by election officials.