New director chosen for Alaska Division of Elections

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Monday, July 27, 2015 10:38pm
  • News

JUNEAU — Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott has chosen a new director for Alaska’s Division of Elections.

Mallott asked for and accepted the resignation of Gail Fenumiai on Friday, said Claire Richardson, a special staff assistant to Mallott.

Fenumiai will be replaced by Nome city manager Josie Bahnke, who is scheduled to begin her new role Oct. 1. Lauri Wilson, a regional elections supervisor, will serve as acting director in the meantime, Richardson said.

It was Mallott’s prerogative to make the change, and there was nothing personal about it, Richardson said.

Mallott is thankful for the work Fenumiai has done for the state and wishes her well, Richardson said Monday.

The lieutenant governor oversees elections in Alaska. Mallott took office Dec. 1.

Fenumiai garnered national attention in 2010, during the hand-count of ballots in the U.S. Senate race between Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and tea party favorite Joe Miller. Murkowski mounted a write-in campaign to keep her job after losing the GOP primary to Miller. Fenumiai’s charge from legal counsel during the hand-count was to count for Murkowski’s tally names phonetic to Murkowski or with slight misspellings. Murkowski ultimately prevailed.

Richardson said there are a lot of changes happening within the division and now seemed like a good time to bring on a new director. Fenumiai had served in the role since 2008.

The state has been involved in trying to reach a settlement in a 2013 lawsuit brought by several Native villages that alleged the state had failed to provide accurate, complete translations of voting materials in Native languages. As part of that case, the state argued that it had taken reasonable steps to implement standards for voting materials for non-English speakers.

Bahnke is known as a collaborator, Richardson said.

Bahnke said the opportunity to serve as the new elections director was unexpected, but she’s excited to take that on. She said she’s heard the division has a great team and looks forward to listening to and working with them. She will be based in Juneau.

Efforts to reach Fenumiai by phone were not successful Monday.

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