Alaska Supreme Court rejects appeal to reprint 800K ballots

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska elections officials succeeded in two court challenges Friday, surviving efforts from a nonpartisan candidate seeking to force the state to reprint 800,000 ballots after the design of the document was changed.

The Alaska Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling, which said forcing the reprinting of the ballots would cause harm to the state. The high court heard the case on an expedited basis after Superior Court Judge Jennifer Henderson issued her ruling early Friday afternoon.

U.S. House candidate Alyse Galvin sued after the newly designed general election ballot dropped her nonpartisan affiliation after her name and instead listed her only as the “Democratic nominee.”

“We are pleased the Superior Court understood the detrimental impacts to the election process and voters to reprint 800,000 ballots, delay sending ballots to uniformed officers and overseas voters, and retrieve materials that have already been sent to regional offices all over the state,” said Alaska Assistant Attorney General Maria Bahr.

“We are further pleased the Alaska Supreme Court upheld the lower court. What is important at this point is to ensure a successful and safe election. That is what the Division is focused on, and this helps ensure it can carry out its duty,” she said.

Galvin’s Anchorage-based attorney, Kevin Feldis deferred comment to Galvin's campaign, which didn't immediately return a message Friday.

Feldis argued to the Alaska Supreme Court that 800,000 ballots must be reprinted to avoid a “hanging chad” situation after the state changed the ballot design.

Feldis appealed the lower court ruling earlier in the day in which the judge said Galvin’s arguments had value but she sided with the state that harm would be done to the state in reprinting ballots.

The state, under Republican-appointed Elections Director Gail Fenumiai, changed the ballot this year to remove party affiliation and instead only lists how people got to the ballot.

Galvin is a nonpartisan candidate who ran and won the Democratic primary for U.S. House, as she did in 2018, the year the Democrats opened their primaries.

That year, she was listed on the ballot with a U behind her name, when she was registered undeclared. But on this year’s general election ballot, she’s listed as “Democratic nominee" after changing her party affiliation.

She sued to seek to have the ballots reprinted with an N for nonpartisan behind her name, saying her independence is a defining characteristic for her.

“In this political climate, we know that the major parties, the Republicans and Democrats, are trying to align the unaffiliated voters with those opposition parties,“ Feldis said, noting there is an ad on a city bus in Anchorage that tries to align Galvin with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat. “You know what? This ballot does exactly that.”

He said the changes made by the Division of Elections are unconstitutional and violate state law.

“Both Gavin’s statutory and her constitutional claim are wrong on the merits,” countered Alaska Assistant Attorney General Laura Fox.

“But the more pressing issue right now is that even assuming her claims had merit, the remedies she seeks is drastically out of proportion to any small harm she might suffer from not having her voter registration printed on the ballot,” she said.

Mitigating remedies mentioned could include providing informational fliers describing the party affiliation for Galvin and others mailed with absentee ballots, handing out such fliers or posting signs at polling places.

Feldis rejected those options, saying they are fraught with possibilities of error.

Instead, he said the only good option is reprinting the ballots, despite the state’s predictions of it possibly delaying the election.

“The state has used lots of lots of words like debacle, chaos, derailment, disaster that they allege we’ve created but that’s of their own making to the extent any of that exists,” he said, adding the problem is the state's own making.

“The cleanest path here is to reprint the ballots so we avoid adding another element here, another hanging chad, into this election,” he said.

The state received the ballots Sept. 10 from a contracted printer in Homer. The changes only became known when a sample ballot was posted this week on the division's website.

Time, supplies and equipment seem to be the biggest stumbling blocks to reprinting the ballots.

Getting the proper paper to the printer would be one of the holdups. Fenumiai testified during the earlier hearing that the contractor has enough paper on hand to reprint 390,000 ballots. To finish the printing run, they would have to secure a shipment of additional printing paper from the Lower 48. The printer has a hold on a supply now, but it would be delivered at the end of the month. The hold for that supply expired Friday.

Fox said there are other issues involved with reprinting the ballots, including having voting machines statewide shipped back to Juneau for reprogramming.

The state also face a Friday afternoon deadline to get about 8,000 overseas ballots in the mail.