Alaska judge halts printing of ballots that removed candidates’ independent status

House candidate sued after being listed only as Democrat

Alyse Galvin, 2020 independent candidate for Alaska's at-large district. (Courtesy Alyse for Alaska)
Alyse Galvin, 2020 independent candidate for Alaska's at-large district. (Courtesy Alyse for Alaska)
Posted September 17, 2020 at 2:31pm

A judge in Alaska ordered the state to stop printing ballots Thursday, the day before they were scheduled to start going out in the mail, amid a dispute over a last-minute change that Democrats said created a disadvantage to Senate and House nominees Al Gross and Alyse Galvin.

At issue is a decision by the Republican-appointed director of the state Division of Elections, Gail Fenumiai, to strip party affiliations from the November ballot, instead including only the party that the candidate represents as the nominee.

That decision would disproportionately impact Gross and Galvin, who are waging two of the most competitive challenges to Republican incumbents the state has seen in decades

Both are independents who caucus with Democrats and were identified as nonpartisans on the August primary ballots. They have made their lack of party allegiance a central selling point in a state where voters pride themselves on individualism. Gross, an orthopedic surgeon and commercial fisherman, is running for Senate, while Galvin, an education advocate, is running for the House.

The temporary restraining order was issued Thursday in response to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by Galvin’s campaign. It will last until a hearing on Friday, according to court records.

The order noted that Galvin raised “clear and very significant questions” about what appeared to be a departure from a state statute outlining how candidates’ names should appear on the ballot.

“The Republican administration is effectively putting their thumb on the scale, trying to make the ticket work for their own party and removing valuable information Alaska voters need to make an educated decision up and down the ticket,” said Lindsay Kavanaugh, executive director of the state Democratic Party.

The state Democratic Party sued in 2016 to overturn a state law prohibiting independent candidates from running in Democratic primaries. The state Supreme Court ruled in Democrats’ favor in 2018, and ballots that year had candidates’ party affiliation along with the party they represented as the nominee.

The Republican incumbents up for reelection this cycle, Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young, have said their opponents’ identification as independents is disingenuous, a critique that Young’s campaign reiterated Wednesday.

Galvin had accepted substantial support from the Democratic Party, but she “wants to hide behind a banner of being an independent candidate,” Young spokesman Truman Reed said. “Her claim simply isn’t true, and Alaskans won’t be fooled.”
Campaigns didn’t learn of the change until sample ballots were sent out late last week, giving them little time to respond before the first absentee ballots are sent to members of the military on Friday.

“This is a real partisan move,” said Lucinda Guinn, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, adding that the committee was working closely with Galvin to fight the decision.

The Galvin campaign sued the state Tuesday, seeking to prevent the Department of Elections from printing ballots until they had been revised to include both the candidates’ nominating party and party affiliation, according to a spokesman, who noted that was the way Galvin appeared on the ballot when she ran in 2018. She has been an independent since 2006.

The Gross campaign did not plan to challenge the decision, spokeswoman Julia Savel said.

Alaska is a historically conservative state, but the majority of its voters are not affiliated with either political party. Democrats see many of those voters as up for grabs as the state struggles with an economic recession and the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Several polls over the summer show President Donald Trump, who won the state by 15 points in 2016, with a lead in the single digits this year.

Several analysts have taken those dynamics into account and shifted rankings of both the Senate and the state’s sole, at-large House district.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates both races as Likely Republican.