State attorney says there’s evidence of voter fraud in hotly contested Alaska House district

Voters cast ballots in the Aug. 21, 2018, primary election at Glacier Valley Baptist Church in Juneau.

Voters cast ballots in Alaska’s primary election last week. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

Alaska elections officials said Monday that they’ve asked criminal investigators to examine “irregularities” with absentee ballots in a hotly contested Anchorage House district — including seven absentees requested in the names of dead people.

The irregularities are evidence of voter fraud, according to one state attorney, Margaret Paton-Walsh. But officials said they haven’t identified a particular campaign or candidate that’s responsible for them.

Elections workers first noticed the irregularities before last week’s primary, which left the two Republican candidates in District 15, in East Anchorage — incumbent Gabrielle LeDoux and challenger Aaron Weaver — separated by three votes.

There are 40 House districts in Alaska, but of all 70 absentee ballots that were returned as undeliverable, more than half came from District 15, the Division of Elections said in a statement Monday.

The state’s review continued after the election. Elections workers ultimately found two people who said they hadn’t voted in spite of the fact that absentee ballots had been submitted in their names, the division said.

Those votes won’t be counted. And when the state does count the absentee votes from District 15, starting Tuesday, it will take the unusual step of ensuring each ballot remains linked to the envelope it arrived in. That way, any votes subsequently found to be invalid can be subtracted, the division said.

“The integrity of our elections is vital to our democracy,” Josie Bahnke, the state elections director, said in the statement. “The division will continue to look into this matter throughout the week and remove any ballots that we determine should not be counted.”

The number of ballots that raise authenticity concerns are a small fraction of the 300 that haven’t been counted — an estimated 10 to 20 ballots, according to Paton-Walsh.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux sits at Election Central at the Dena’ina Center downtown Tuesday, August 21, 2018, while she waits for results in her closely-fought GOP primary with Aaron Weaver, a former cameraman at KTUU. (Photo by Nathaniel Herz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Anchorage Republican Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux sits at a party on Election Nigh last week as she awaits for results in her closely-fought primary. (Photo by Nathaniel Herz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The House race has been closely watched because of LeDoux’s position in the state House majority: She and two other Republicans infuriated GOP leaders in 2016 by joining 17 Democrats and two independents to form the chamber’s ruling coalition. LeDoux was awarded a spot in leadership and chairmanship of the House Rules Committee, which gives her control over which bills move to the floor for a vote.

The Alaska Republican Party backed Weaver, LeDoux’s primary challenger. But Weaver, a former television cameraman, raised little money and said he barely campaigned. LeDoux is known as an energetic campaigner, and political observers — including state GOP leaders — said they were shocked that the primary results were so close.

Each side will likely be carefully scrutinizing absentee ballots when the count starts Tuesday. Elections officials briefed LeDoux and Republican Party officials Monday afternoon.

LeDoux, accompanied by attorney Tom Amodio, wouldn’t answer questions on her way out of the election division’s Anchorage office Monday, saying, “No comment.”

An attorney representing the Alaska Republican Party, Stacey Stone, said she’s been satisfied with the state’s review of the absentee ballots.

“There are questions and they’re being resolved and the division seems to be taking the appropriate scrutiny to make sure those questions are answered,” Stone said.

Listen to Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove discuss this news with Alaska’s Energy Desk’s Nat Herz on Monday:

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