State seeks Alaska Supreme Court review in ballot lawsuit

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A judge on Thursday ordered the state of Alaska to stop printing general election ballots after a Democratic-nominated independent candidate sued to block a new ballot design ahead of the November election.

Alaska Superior Court Judge Jennifer Henderson ordered the Alaska Division of Elections to stop printing the ballots, and set another hearing in the case Friday, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The state has instead asked the Alaska Supreme Court for an immediate review.

Henderson ordered both the state and attorneys for Alyse Galvin, a candidate for the U.S. House, to submit additional written arguments by Thursday afternoon. The judge could issue additional orders after Friday’s hearing, if the Supreme Court doesn't take up the case.

Galvin sued the state to block the new ballot design. She opposes a change to the Alaska general election ballot eliminating a requirement for candidates to list their party affiliation.

It appears the judge's order to stop printing is moot. The state's filing with the high court says, “Although 800,000 general election ballots have already been printed, and therefore, the express terms of the court’s injunction have no immediate effect, the State does not believe that it is free to mail out existing ballots tomorrow.”

Overseas absentee ballots were to be mailed Friday, ahead of a deadline imposed by federal law. The deadline is actually Saturday but the state says there is no bulk mail service available on Saturday and they must deliver ballots to the post office by 3 p.m. Friday to meet the deadline. The state could seek a waiver on the deadline from federal government.

The state Division of Elections and the state Department of Law declined to provide more details to The Associated Press on Thursday.

If 800,000 ballots have been printed, that would be more than double than the 321,271 Alaskans who voted in 2016, the last general election that included a race for president. As of Sept. 3, 2020, 590,422 Alaskans were registered to vote, according to the Division of Elections website.

The new ballot design shows only whether a candidate reached the ballot by a petition or party nomination. The political registration of candidates has been removed, a change from the primary and 2018 general election.

The lawsuit claims the new design violates state law and harms Galvin, who has advertised herself as an independent candidate while the new ballot identifies her only as the “Democratic Nominee.”

In a 2018 run for Congress, ballots listed Galvin as “U,” signifying her undeclared party registration.

Galvin’s lawsuit asks the state court to stop the elections division from printing and mailing the new ballots and requests an order requiring the state to use the 2018 design.

The elections division defended its decision to change the design amid criticism from state Democrats, who said the update discriminates against independents endorsed by their party.

The change was made on the division’s normal timeline and “without any thought to politics or campaigning, as should always be the case,” division Director Gail Fenumiai said in a written statement.

The Alaska Supreme Court issued a 2018 ruling in favor of a lawsuit allowing independents into the Democratic primary.

The ruling said in part, “On the general election ballot, the State could simply print the nominating party’s name next to the candidate’s name.”

The state’s voter pamphlet will have information about candidates’ registered affiliation or non-affiliation, the elections division said.