Fourth-place candidate asks for recount of city election

Even though he finished 255 votes behind Bryan Zak, the second-place candidate in the Homer City Council election, Justin Arnold last Friday filed an application asking for a hand recount of the Oct. 1 city election. Zak, a two-term incumbent council member, won re-election last week when the Canvass Board counted absentee and other ballots, giving Zak an 11-vote lead over Corbin Arno. Arno had a four-vote lead on election day, but Zak finished with 547 votes to Arno’s 536 votes. VanDyke was the top vote-getter with 651 votes in the two-seat election. Arnold finished fourth with 292 votes.

“It’s a very close election between Corbin and Bryan Zak,” Arnold said as to why he asked for a recount. “It would be beneficial to the entire community.”

Arnold also organized the initiative to repeal the ban on retailers providing onion-skin thin plastic bags to customers. That repeal won by 661 to 519 votes. Arnold said he had talked to Arno about the recount, but did it on his own. He asked the city to provide notice of the recount to him and Arno.

Homer City Clerk Jo Johnson said the recount will start at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the Cowles Council Chambers, City Hall. It is a public meeting and open to anyone. The city council will certify the election at its regular meeting starting at 6 p.m. Monday.

Homer city code follows the same procedures set out in state law for requesting a recount. Under Alaska statutes, a defeated candidate or 10 qualified voters who believe there has been a mistake made by an election official can file an application for a recount. If the difference is 20 votes or less, then the city pays for the recount, which includes the cost of paying election officials and city workers.

In addition to a hand recount, Arnold asked that ballots be placed in Homer Police custody. The ballots are now in the Homer City Hall vault, Johnson said. Those issues are not addressed in state statutes.

“I’ve never really trusted the idea of putting all our trust in a fallible machine made by man,” Arnold said in asking for a hand recount.

After consulting with city attorney Thomas Klinkner, Johnson said those requests will be denied. The city will keep custody of the ballots in the vault and not do a hand recount.

A human recount wouldn’t necessarily be more accurate. For example, at the Canvass Board meeting last Friday when election officials hand-tallied 10 faxed or emailed ballots, there had been an initial discrepancy in the count when votes were read aloud and one official mistakenly heard “Arno” for “Arnold.”

All other ballots were run through the city’s AccuVote machines. AccuVote is a brand name for a voting machine made by Premier/Diebold that counts paper ballots where voters fill in bubbles next to the selected candidate or referendum choice.

“That’s what we have the AccuVote units for,” Johnson said of not doing a hand count. “That’s why we pay to have the cards programmed.”

Before counting actual ballots, the AccuVote machine is programmed for each election, and dummy ballots with various scenarios — say, voting for three candidates in a two-seat race — are run to test the machines.

The cost of a recount shouldn’t be too high, Arnold said.

“I don’t think it’s going to be any large amount of money considering the things they spend money on, like $20,000 to work on a trail they don’t even have the property for,” Arnold said.

Johnson said this is the first recount she knows of in the past 10 years. 

The canvass board on Friday did disqualify 20 of 36 questioned ballots. Disqualified ballots were for voters who did not appear on registration rolls as being city residents. The qualified questioned ballots were for city voters who voted at the wrong precinct, for example, showed up at Homer City Hall instead of the Homer Senior Center. To preserve voter secrecy, those ballots were separated from questioned ballot envelopes and counted with absentee ballots.

A message was left with Arno seeking comment, but he did not return a call by press time.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at