The Kenai Peninsula Borough is proposing changes to the sections of borough code that address write-in candidates for borough office in response to questions that came up after the most recent special mayoral election.
Of the more than 7,000 votes cast during February’s special election, which installed Peter Micciche as borough mayor, more than half — about 52% — went to Micciche. Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings, the next-highest vote-getter, received about 20.1% of votes cast. The third-highest vote-getter was Robert Wall, a write-in candidate whose name did not appear on the ballot.
In all, Wall received about 12% of votes cast. That’s more than candidates Zachary Hamilton and David Carey, who both ran formal campaigns for the seat.
Micciche told assembly members during a June 20 meeting of the body’s policies and procedures committee that the borough clerk’s ability to prepare election results in time for the assembly meeting where those results were being certified was delayed due to uncertainty about how write-in votes should be counted.
“We don’t have an election integrity issue at the Kenai Peninsula Borough,” Micciche said. “We just don’t. But it is in our best interest for our elections to be transparent with a clear procedure and I’m not sure that we were there yet.”
In all, the proposed legislation, which is sponsored by Micciche, Assembly President Brent Johnson and assembly member Peter Ribbens, would amend four sections of borough code and remove entirely one section.
Regarding write-in candidates, the new language would clarify that a person can run as a write-in candidate if they miss the borough’s deadline to declare their candidacy. A person who wants to run as a write-in candidate would be required to complete a form declaring their candidacy at least five days before the election, but their name would not appear on any borough election materials.
When it comes to counting votes cast for write-in candidates, the new ordinance would put in code that write-in votes would only be reported per individual if the total number of votes is “materially significant” to the race’s outcome.
Under the proposed changes, the number of write-in votes would be “materially significant” when a write-in candidate is the highest vote-getter, or when a write-in candidate is the second-highest vote-getter and a runoff election is required.
Kenai Peninsula Borough code requires mayors to be elected with a majority of votes cast. Only if no candidate receives a majority of votes — more than 50% — do the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff election.
Existing borough code says that write-in votes will only be tabulated by person if the total number of write-in votes is greater than the number of votes cast for the lowest vote-getter whose name appeared on the ballot.
Further, the ordinance also consolidates into one subsection of code the chronological order the canvass board will follow in the process of reviewing absentee, special needs and question ballots, and more clearly states the way borough voters can correct mistakes made on their ballot envelope.
“It’s a clear process for making as many ballots legal as possible so that folks are not disenfranchised because of a simple mistake they may have made with a signature or something else,” Micciche said.
Acting Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk Michele Turner told assembly members during the same June 20 committee meeting that the new code would provide clearer guidelines for the clerk’s office, including with regard to write-in candidates and public notice of canvass board meetings.
“The write-in section needed some clarification as far as providing us with clear guidelines as far as how we were to accept a write-in candidate (and) what the vote counts would look like,” Turner said.
Assembly members approved the ordinance for introduction during their June 20 meeting. A public hearing on the legislation will be held on Aug. 1.
Assembly meetings can be streamed in full on the borough’s website at kpb.legistar.com.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.