updated 12/17/2008 9:46:36 PM ET 2008-12-18T02:46:36

Alaska officials are investigating racist jokes about President-elect Barack Obama that have been circulating on state government e-mail accounts.

One of the five e-mails obtained by The Associated Press asks about the outcome of the Democrat's victory after all the time and money invested and concludes: "Another black family living in government housing!"

State officials were unaware of the e-mails until asked about them by the AP.

Three of the racist messages were confirmed by the state's information technology division after an electronic search of the government's e-mail system, Administration Commissioner Annette Kreitzer said Wednesday.

"It's embarrassing to the state," she said.

Kreitzer said she alerted the office of Gov. Sarah Palin — the failed Republican vice presidential candidate — about the e-mails.

Bill McAllister, Palin's spokesman, said in an e-mail that the matter concerned individual actions taken by a handful of state employees among thousands.

"My understanding is that the Department of Administration is following up on this with the individuals who took action to forward the offensive e-mails," he said. "This is, of course, a confidential personnel and disciplinary matter that has nothing to do with the governor's office."

The Rev. Alonzo Patterson, state chairman of the Alaska Black Leadership Conference, encouraged Palin to address the e-mails.

"They're doing that in a state setting," he said. "She should condemn it."

Officials were not releasing the names or positions of workers involved.

It appears the original e-mails were sent to state employees from outside the state system, but some state employees forwarded them.

One e-mail, with the subject line of "Night Befo Crizzmus," was forwarded dozens of times, Kreitzer said.

It was not immediately clear how many workers were involved in forwarding the e-mails.

The personnel files of state workers who circulated the jokes will be examined for a pattern of similar behavior, Kreitzer said. Discipline will be determined by past behaviors and could range from diversity training to letters of reprimand, she said.

The state was investigating whether the two other e-mails given to the AP also were in the state system, Kreitzer said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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