Bill for election contest at issue
The Haines Borough Assembly will decide Tuesday who is responsible for the estimated $10,000 election investigation bill: the public, or school board candidate Ardy Miller, who contested the election.
Code dictates the contesting candidate pay for all expenses incurred by the borough unless the election results are changed by a recount, or the difference between the winning and losing vote on the contested result is less than 2 percent or the assembly determines the election was invalid.
However, code also allows assembly members to review contests on a case-by-case basis and decide if they want to waive the costs.
Miller, who said she won’t appeal the assembly’s decision to certify the election, said while she understands the borough has a right to recoup the costs from her, she doesn’t think it should. The investigation report’s clear findings of mistakes and flaws in the election process should be enough to prove that the contest still had public value, she said.
“The community as a whole benefited, and I would hate to see people who are concerned about an election who are approaching the contesting of the election with goodwill and honest intentions be afraid to contest an election because of financial consequences,” Miller said.
Interim manager Jila Stuart said staff and officials have been informally discussing if there was a “better or less expensive way” the same conclusions about the election mistakes could have been reached, “like could the same public benefit have occurred without a contest just by writing a letter of concern or something.”
We the People member Dana Hallett, who supported the contest and is now advocating for election reform, said Miller should not be held financially responsible, as the mistakes wouldn’t have come to light without the investigation.
“She’s performed a public service and she has opened the public’s eyes – the borough’s eyes – to some serious problems. Therefore, the burden to pay for this should rest with the public,” Hallett said.
“I’m not confident that – given my experience with the government – these problems would have come to light. They don’t come fully into view without this kind of investigation,” he said.
Stuart gave the $10,000 figure as a ballpark estimate, as borough attorney Brooks Chandler hasn’t submitted a bill for his October hours yet. Chandler is paid $210 an hour, and will also be compensated for traveling to Haines to explain the investigation report to the assembly.
When asked whether he would support making Miller pay the investigation price tag, assembly member Jerry Lapp said he would have to see the actual figure first.
“We can do it several ways. We can say because we had to do this, (Miller) should pay for part. That’s one of the things we could say, but that has to be discussed,” Lapp said.
Miller said she didn’t think such a compromise of her paying part of the cost would be fair.
Assembly member Debra Schnabel agreed, and said she doesn’t think Miller should be billed, even partially. “In light of the numerous mistakes that were acknowledged in the investigation, there was merit to the contest,” she said.
Miller said she has written a letter regarding the investigation to the assembly and plans to attend the Tuesday meeting. “While I’m disappointed in the outcome of the investigation, I do believe it will have a positive impact on future elections,” she said. “A number of areas that need to be changed were identified through the investigation. My goal all along was the process be reviewed and changes be made that would make it a fair and accurate vote in the future.”
The assembly will discuss the two election reform recommendations that came out of the investigation report, including that the Accu-Vote machines be programmed to automatically accept undervoted ballots and that ballot wording be changed to read, “Vote for no more than…” rather than, “Vote only for…”