By vote margins of 223 or more, an attempted recall failed for Homer City Council members Donna Aderhold, David Lewis and Catriona Reynolds. In final results tallied today by the Special Election Canvass Board, the “no” votes increased their margins of victory to triple digits over Tuesday’s voting. All three council members will keep their seats.
With 849 more votes counted today on top of 1,087 votes cast on June 13, and with a 42 percent voter turn out, the final results are:
Shall Donna Aderhold be recalled?
Yes: 825 votes or 43 percent
No: 1,099 votes or 57 percent
Shall David Lewis be recalled?
Yes: 825 votes or 43 percent
No: 1,098 votes of 57 percent
Shall Catriona Reynolds be recalled?
Yes: 850 votes or 44 percent
No: 1,073 votes or 56 percent
“I was hoping that the ‘no’ vote would be decisive,” Reynolds said. “It feels like a pretty clear message about how the community feels about the recall.”
In between getting hugs from people visiting her, Aderhold said in a phone interview she was glad the three-month long recall process was over.
“It feels good. I’m glad that the community understands that there was no misconduct in office,” she said. “I will be very happy to get back to work on the council.”
In a statement released before final results came in, Sarah Vance, a spokesperson for Heartbeat of Homer, the group that organized to recall the council members, congratulated “everyone for speaking up at the ballot box on this important issue.” She also said Heartbeat of Homer extends a hand to the council members, commending them for their volunteer efforts and commitment to the community. Vance saw the recall election as a win.
“Every time we take a stand to hold our leaders accountable, take responsibility for our own actions, and defend truth, we win!” she said. “Thank you to everyone who participated in this tumultuous recall; your efforts have not gone unnoticed.”
Lewis, a three-term council member whose term ends in October, was less optimistic.
“I just hope the whole thing is over, period, but I doubt it,” Lewis said.
He mentioned a motion filed by Heartbeat of Homer to recover its legal costs as an intervenor in Aderhold et al. v. City of Homer, the lawsuit the targeted council members filed to stop the election. With the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union Alaska, the three alleged the grounds of the recall violated their freedom of speech. Judge Erin Marston last month denied their motion to stop the election.
On Wednesday, Eric Sanders, an attorney hired by the city to defend the city clerk’s decision to allow the recall election, released a statement saying the city and the plaintiffs agreed to dismiss the lawsuit in return for not filing an appeal and the city not pressing for legal costs.
On Friday afternoon as the canvass board methodically reviewed and tallied ballots, about a dozen people watched over the afternoon, many of them with Heartbeat of Homer. The process had a bit of the drama of waiting for the College of Cardinals to announce a new Pope. No white smoke puffs announced the results, just City Clerk Melissa Jacobsen sitting at a table.
Counting of the absentee and other outstanding ballots got delayed when the city clerk’s office discovered an 18-vote discrepancy between the number of people voting on Tuesday and the number of ballots counted. City Clerk Melissa Jacobsen advised the canvass board to do a recount of ballots cast in Homer Precincts 1 and 2 on June 13. At one point it looked like the final voting might have to continue into Saturday, but the board finished its count about 4:40 p.m. after starting at 1 p.m.
“When they told me I had to sleep another night, that was kind of a curve ball I didn’t expect,” Reynolds said. “I am so done with this roller coaster.”
In a memo to the canvass board on June 16, Jacobsen said the clerk’s office discovered the discrepancy when staff reviewed on Wednesday precinct voter registers and ballots recorded in optical scanning voting machines. In precinct 2, 488 voters signed the register, but 477 ballots were cast, an 11-vote undercount. In precinct 1, 601 voters signed the register, but 594 ballots were cast, a 7-ballot undercount.
Jacobsen wrote that the undercount happened when poll workers reported the optical scan units not taking the ballots and multiple attempts having to be made. Jacobsen contacted the Alaska Division of Election for advice, and she wrote that she was told to push a button on the machine and the voter could insert the ballot and it would go through. Jacobsen, recently appointed City Clerk, but before that a deputy clerk, said this was the first time she had seen such a discrepancy.
On Thursday, Jacobsen contacted Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship for guidance on how to proceed. Blankenship and deputy clerk Michele Turner were in Homer for a borough meeting. Blankenship is the election supervisor for borough precincts. Jacobsen, Blankenship and Turner counted the number of ballots for precinct 2 and found 488, the same as the number of people who signed the voter register.
“In hindsight I believe the advice I received from the DOE (Division of Elections) was not correct for the situation that we were experiencing, and that is what caused the discrepancies on election day,” Jacobsen.
Aderhold said she hoped the city could begin to heal from the divisive election.
“I have some healing to do myself. I do hope we can come back together.There’s been a lot of hurtful things said in this community. I didn’t think the city of Homer was like that,” she said. “To say ugly things isn’t the community I thought we were. That’s part of what we need to come to terms with, is the words people used toward each other.”
At Monday’s Homer City Council meeting, Aderhold read a poem by Wendy Erd, “Advice from an Estuary,” that’s on a sign along the Beluga Slough Trail. Aderhold said she walks that trail frequently and has thought about Erd’s poem. It includes the lines “Embrace opposites easily … Digest insults / Reframe and cleanse them … Adopt silence while others speak all around you.”
“I think that poem is intended for all of us to do some self reflection. What can each of us do to make changes in ourselves and be more accepting of others?” Aderhold said. “I hope everyone who heard that poem and was involved in this recall effort will do the same. What can I do differently to help heal this community?”
In Heartbeat of Homer’s statement, Vance said, “This recall has indeed blown a strong wind of change through our sleepy little town, and it is now up to us, as a community, to determine how to proceed. It is our hope that together, we will embrace the change that is now before us, and embark on this journey with great expectation as to whom Homer will become.”
In a special meeting at 4 p.m. Monday, June 19, the city council meets to certify the election. The city attorney will be present to advise the council on potential conflicts of interest regarding the three targeted council members.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org