The security of Kenai Peninsula Borough elections took center stage during Wednesday night’s assembly meeting, with the body considering three separate pieces of legislation that addressed elections. Between people who testified in person during the meeting and the more than 70 pages of public comment submitted in advance, the issues discussed ranged from the security of Dominion voting equipment to trust in borough administration.
The assembly considered three pieces of election legislation during the Tuesday night meeting, with the body ultimately voting in favor of purchasing new voting equipment, adopting pre-election security assessments and codifying the borough’s existing election protocols.
Borough efforts to acquire voting equipment that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act is in response to a complaint filed with the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights. That complaint was filed by Richard Malley, who alleged that the borough discriminated against him by failing to provide a voting machine that accommodated his vision disability during the 2015 municipal election.
Instead of proceeding to a public hearing, the commission offered the borough a conciliation agreement, part of which required the borough to adopt a voting system that allowed for private, independent voting by visually impaired citizens.
The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Help America Vote Act of 2020 are among federal laws that require “full and equal opportunity” for all eligible voters, which includes having an accessible voting system for people with disabilities.
The borough could have satisfied Malley’s complaint by adopting a hybrid election system that increased mail-in voting, but that option was defeated by borough voters during the last election cycle.
In all, the borough will purchase seven ADA-compliant voting machines and will lease 26 other machines that they will have the option to purchase after two years.
Controversy over Dominion
Dominion Voting Systems Inc. and Election Systems & Software, Inc. were the only two companies — out of nine nationwide that meet requirements to receive Election Assistance Commission certification under HAVA — who responded to the borough’s request for a price quote. The borough ultimately determined that Dominion was the better option. The Kenai Peninsula Borough has used Dominion voting equipment for more than 20 years. The State of Alaska also uses Dominion equipment. Both Borough IT Director Ben Hanson and Clerk Johni Blankenship have stated that they are comfortable continuing to use Dominion equipment to administer borough elections.
Legislation authorizing Blankenship to purchase the machines was first approved for introduction by the assembly during their March 2 meeting. By the beginning of the assembly’s Tuesday meeting, more than 70 pages of public comment had been submitted on the legislation.
“I along with millions of other American citizens saw the complete theft of an election just not long ago,” wrote Chris Manis. “I find it completely careless and quite frankly blatant disregard to the security of our elections that the Kenai peninsula or any area of Alaska would consider dominion voting systems.”
Those in support spoke to the reliability of Dominion machines to produce accurate results.
“These machines have been recommended by the Election Stakeholder Group, and have been used reliably,” wrote Vivian Finlay and Clyde Boyer. “There is no reason to spend more taxpayer money to start a new search for another type of machine. There is also no reason to hold onto unfounded “myths” that the Dominion machines have been used fraudulently.”
Annette Pankoski, who testified before the assembly on Tuesday, was one of several who said that while she appreciates the additional security legislation brought forth by assembly members Jesse Bjorkman and Bill Elam, she does not trust Dominion specifically.
“There are fraudulent issues with the Dominion voting machines that makes, in my opinion, them to be very not trusting,” Pankoski said.
Claims that the November 2020 general election was fraudulent have repeatedly been debunked nationwide.
Former U.S. Attorney General William Barr said late last year that the U.S. Justice Department found no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could have changed the outcome of the 2020 election. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which operates under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has also stated that there is no evidence that any voting system was compromised.
“There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised,” CISA said last year.
Specific instances of voter “fraud” in Michigan and Georgia were determined to be the result of human error and not the result of an error with voting equipment. In Michigan’s Antrim County, an accidental failure to update Dominion machine software resulted in election data that was improperly tabulated.
“The software did not cause a misallocation of votes; it was a result of user human error,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said last year. “Even when human error occurs, it is caught during county canvasses.”
A similar statement was issued by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office in response to false claims circulated on social media that Dominion machines in Ware County had been tampered with. In fact, a survey of Ware County’s machines conducted by Pro V&V, a testing laboratory certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, found that none had been tampered with.
Assembly President Brent Hibbert said Wednesday that he thinks it is the assembly’s job to do their research and due diligence when considering legislation that may be controversial, which included looking into lawsuits involving Dominion.
“I don’t want to get into debates with the public,” Hibbert said. “I want to listen to their concerns and then make my decisions.”
Assembly member Richard Derkevorkian was the only person to vote against the ordinance and cited a lack of support among his constituents for Dominion, which he said was “rife with controversy.”
“I was elected to represent my constituents — they’ve contacted me in opposition of this ordinance at a 2-to-1 ratio …” Derkevorkian said. “Your voice matters to me and I plan to vote in opposition to this if it happens tonight … I think they would be safe but what I hear from the public is that they don’t trust this system.”
The assembly approved the ordinance authorizing the city clerk to purchase Dominion equipment in an 8-1 vote, with Derkervorkian voting in opposition.
‘Building a fence’ around elections systems
To further strengthen public trust in the borough elections, the assembly also took action on two additional pieces of legislation addressing election security, which were introduced by Bjorkman and Elam.
The first was a resolution — which the assembly unanimously adopted — stating that the borough will conduct a pre-election security risk and vulnerability assessment and will develop a security design for any election system used to administer borough elections.
“Just with … everything that’s been going on [with elections] — between the systems and securities and policies and procedures — what we’ve all uncovered in the process of this is that we need better transparency and visibility into what’s going on with our election systems and the securities around it,” Elam said of the resolution. “The goal and objective here is to build a fence around our election systems and make sure that whatever we have … we’re having secure elections.”
A fiscal note attached to the resolution by Kenai Peninsula Borough Brandi Harbaugh estimated the cost of adopting the resolution to the borough to be around $20,000.
Harbaugh said Wednesday that the $20,000 estimate refers to costs that would be incurred by having an independent-party cybersecurity professional conduct a security risk and vulnerability assessment and develop security design for the election system used to administer borough elections.
If the funds are appropriated, Harbaugh said, the money would come from the general fund. When asked if taxpayer money would be used to pay for the assessment, Harbaugh said “Perhaps.”
Codifying the election process
The other piece of legislation the assembly acted on was an ordinance — which the assembly unanimously approved for introduction and which several have described as codifying the borough’s existing election process. A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for the assembly’s May 18 meeting.
“My goal here … was to clearly lay out in code what should happen with our elections,” Bjorkman said.
The ordinance has four sections, which each aim to write borough election security measures into code. First, the ordinance would outline a chain of custody for election equipment, materials and results. Second, the ordinance would codify the right for poll watchers to be present and be able to observe and read election material. Third, the ordinance would state that tabulation machines are to be publicly tested. The ordinance would also describe the pieces of identification required for absentee voting. Lastly, the ordinance would have the clerk notify the Alaska attorney general, upon “reasonable suspicion of fraud, misconduct, or plural voting by a registered voter” and request that the matter “be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“A lot of what you see here in this ordinance is a lot of what the clerk’s office is already doing in regards to our election security measures and keeping our elections honest and accountable for our public,” Bjorkman said.
All Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and committee meetings can be viewed at kpb.legistar.com.