Palmer Mayor Edna DeVries

Palmer Mayor Edna DeVries

PALMER — The Palmer City Council failed Action Memorandum 21-055 by a 4-3 vote at their Sept. 28 meeting.

Proposed by Mayor Edna DeVries, AM 21-055 would have requested Palmer Clerk Designee Kristie Smithers to conduct a hand count of the ballots cast in the upcoming Oct. 5 election with an expense of $1,685 following the ballot tabulation process outlined within Palmer Municipal Code. The issue was discussed by five members of the public prior to the council discussion on AM 21-055, which was moved from the consent agenda to new business by a unanimous vote at the beginning of the meeting.

“I was thinking about the last meeting that we had and the nice little package of voter integrity and the practices for safe voting in Palmer and how we all need to feel secure about our vote here even though these Dominion machines are used in the voting,” said Cindy Hudgins. “It was just to pacify the people. The people yeah, that sounds good, that sounds right, well no it doesn’t. Where Dominion machines are there is no integrity in voting.”

Machines manufactured by the Dominion company have been in use by the state of Alaska since 1998. Last June, then Clerk Norma Alley purchased Dominion voting machines to prevent the city of Palmer from having to borrow Mat-Su Borough voting equipment, which is also manufactured by Dominion. Upon council discussion of AM 21-055, Councilman Brian Daniels asked if support of the measure would be a way of stating that the council did not have faith that the current Dominion machines

“I think in some way some ways we need to put to rest the question about the Dominion machines and this would just add another layer and we would have the proof that yes, that the votes were counted correctly or they weren’t and so that’s my reasoning for bringing forth the hand count,” said DeVries. “What my AM would accomplish is that there would be direction to the city clerk that when the election is over that there would be a hand count so that and since she’s an employee of the city council that would be the direction we would give her.”

Smithers presented at the Sept. 14 meeting on the entire voting process as she has overseen 59 elections serving first with the Mat-Su Borough and then as clerk of the city of Wasilla.

“They have been very consistent, both units, both types of units have been very consistent over the years by all of the municipalities using the same equipment,” said Smithers. “There has not been any contest that I know of of the equipment either for accu vote units or the [Image Cast Precinct]. If there were to be questions about that, there is a process for a contest of election in our code and so that’s what someone would follow if there was a question or they felt that there was an irregularity that we did not catch.”

Councilwoman Julie Berberich questioned City Attorney Michael Gatti if the 10 city of Palmer voters or candidate who are legally permitted to request a recount could request a hand count, and if it was specifically forbidden in code to conduct a recount of votes by hand.

“That would be left to the discretion and good judgement of the clerk since the clerk under our code supervises and controls the elections ,” said Gatti. “I think it’s really a clerk question on how they would operate and I think the clerk would probably say I’m going to follow the code as all of the folks in Palmer appreciate and the city council takes the responsibility to follow the code and code speaks to what they are supposed to do and it says it’s conducted through a ballot tabulation system.”

DeVries questioned Gatti whether the council had the power to direct the clerk to conduct a hand count outside of what exists within code.

“Regardless of whether this passes or not to simply request the clerk to do that, but the clerk would have direction to to comply with the code and follow the direction in the code as to how she would conduct the election,” said Gatti.

DeVries voted with Councilmen Richard Best and Steve Carrington in support of AM 21-055. Council members Julie Berberich, Brain Daniels, Dr. Jill Valerius and Deputy Mayor Sabrena Combs voted in opposition.

“Whoa, that’s scary sir. That is scary,” said DeVries. “I don’t agree of course as you can tell with the Attorney.”

Other members of the council suggested that for a hand recount to be conducted, an Ordinance would have to be brought forward and passed by the council amending the current city code.

“We have a process in place, especially hearing from mr. Gatti, if we put the election official in a situation where she’s trying to decide whether she follows code or something else, I think it’s a position that I would not want to be put in, having somebody expect me to do something different beyond what is code,” said Valerius. “I think that we have a process we, two years ago when both of us were elected, there was a recount that year. Our system has worked so I think that we should continue with our process the way that it is outlined.”

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