JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — An Anchorage Democrat who won a November state House race meets residency requirements to take office, a state court judge ruled Monday.
Superior Court Judge Herman Walker Jr. issued the ruling more than two weeks after hearing the case challenging Democrat Jennifer “Jennie” Armstrong's eligibility to serve in the Legislature, and just over a week before the new legislative session begins.
The challenge was brought by Republican Liz Vazquez, who lost the Anchorage House race to Armstrong. She was joined by four others who had filed a prior challenge to Armstrong’s eligibility that was dismissed in November by Walker on procedural grounds.
Vazquez, in her lawsuit, asked that Walker declare her the winner of the election. Vazquez is a former state lawmaker.
The lawsuit pointed to a social media post it said was made by Armstrong, fishing license applications and when Armstrong registered to vote. It alleged that Armstrong had not been a resident of Alaska for at least three years immediately before filing to run for office — and was therefore not qualified to hold the office.
Under the state constitution, to serve in the legislature one must be a “qualified voter who has been a resident of Alaska for at least three years and of the district from which elected for at least one year, immediately preceding his filing for office.”
The filing deadline was June 1.
Armstrong said in court proceedings and in an affidavit that she moved to Alaska on May 20, 2019. She said that is the date she and her now-husband discussed and decided she would move in with him in Anchorage. She testified that her social media posts weren’t always contemporaneous and that a 2022 fishing license application tracing her residency to May 2019 was more precise than prior applications.
She said she had not considered running for office until May 2022 and that that was “the first time that I had to determine the exact day that I moved to Alaska.”
Walker, in his order, said he found that Armstrong became a resident of Alaska on May 20, 2019, based on the evidence provided.
He said state law allows a resident to temporarily leave Alaska and maintain their residency so long as they intend to return. He said Armstrong left for prior commitments on May 20, 2019, and returned on June 8, 2019. He said he found that her absence starting May 20, 2019, was temporary and that Armstrong “maintained her intent to return while she was away.”
He also said case law allows the court “to consider the emotional and physical connection to one’s residence.”
“The result of the November 2022 election is accepted and Armstrong remains the certified winner,” Walker wrote.
Richard Moses, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the case, said they had no comment.
The lawsuit was filed against the state Division of Elections and elections officials. Armstrong intervened in the case.
The case “wasn’t even a close call," Scott Kendall, an attorney for Armstrong, said in a statement. "The evidence supporting Ms. Armstrong’s residency was so strong, that it’s frankly offensive she even had to go through a trial.”
"From the very start this case was nothing more than a half-baked political stunt, and any appeal of Judge Walker’s decision would be no better," Kendall said.
The House has yet to organize a majority ahead of the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 17.