Josephine Bahnke doesn’t hide her lack of elections experience.
“In my role as city manager, I wasn’t that involved with elections,” she said on Tuesday, the same day she oversaw the state’s rural education election.
But those who have worked with Bahnke said her experience can be misleading. Experience can be gained. It’s difficult to train intelligence.
“She’s very intelligent, and she’s very, very quick at learning new things,” said Tom Moran, Nome’s former city clerk and Bahnke’s replacement as manager. “I do realize that some people took umbrage at her lack of experience, but I think she’s absolutely up to the task.”
Atop the budget issues faced by other state agencies, Bahnke must implement a federally mandated voting rights settlement, negotiate an impending ballot initiative, prepare for the 2016 presidential election, upgrade the department’s computer systems and cope with the day-to-day personnel turnover and issues faced by all state departments.
“The lieutenant governor has said that he wants Alaska to have the best elections, so really, I think those are my marching orders,” Bahnke said.
Asked about her lack of elections experience, Bahnke said she’s prepared to learn from staff already in place, and when it comes to state work, “it’s not my first rodeo.”
The Division of Elections has 28 full-time employees, but under the federal settlement of the Toyukuk v. Treadwell lawsuit, the state will be required to hire a 29th: A monitor to ensure the state is providing the Native-language translators and documents called for by the settlement.
In the coming months, Bahnke will attempt to recruit those translators, then return to the Legislature where she once worked to ask for money to pay for them. Bahnke may also make the case for new equipment and computer systems to replace the aging ones now used statewide.
“In the long run, if we’re not mindful of that, if we’re not educating the Legislature about those kind of things, you could be in a situation where the voters aren’t talking about the results of the election, they’re talking about how the voting equipment failed. That’s something we definitely want to avoid,” Bahnke said.