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Alyse Galvin sues the Division of Elections over how she’ll appear on the general election ballot

Alyse Galvin, an Alaska candidate for the House of Representatives.
Alyse Galvin, an Alaska candidate for the House of Representatives.(Courtesy: Galvin campaign)
Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 6:17 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The Democratic nominee for Alaska’s lone House of Representatives seat is suing the Division of Elections over how she will appear as a candidate on the general election ballot.

Alyse Galvin is running as an independent for Congress but she has also been endorsed by the Alaska Democrats. She filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Gail Fenumiai, the director of the Division of Elections, for the decision to not list her “undeclared” affiliation on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Sample general election ballots posted online showed that Galvin would be only listed as the “Democratic nominee” in her race against Rep. Don Young, R - Alaska. Her affiliation as an independent would not be shown.

Fenumiai said by email that she made the decision because the Division of Elections “wanted to avoid voter confusion and felt that the most important and necessary information for the general election ballot is the party affiliation for purposes of the election, which means how the candidate was nominated for the ballot—whether it was through the primary system (Republican, Democrat or Alaska Independence Party) or through a nominating petition.”

The ballot change impacts Al Gross who is also running as an independent and the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Dan Sullivan, R - Alaska. He too would be listed as the “Democratic nominee” and not be shown as a nonpartisan candidate.

The Gross campaign said it had declined to join Galvin in the lawsuit but a spokesperson for the campaign did not explain why.

Some candidates running for the Alaska Legislature would also be impacted by the change from both how the 2018 general election ballot and the 2020 primary ballot were printed.

Scott Kohlhaas, who is running against incumbent Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D - Anchorage, would be listed simply as a “petition nominee” and his Libertarian Party affiliation would not be printed.

“This ruling is just not logical,” Kohlhaas said. “They’re taking away my label and forcing a label on the independents.”

Anchorage Superior Court judge Jennifer Henderson heard on Wednesday afternoon from the Galvin campaign on its application for the general election ballots to be reprinted. The first set of general election ballots are required by federal law to be in the mail on Saturday to overseas and military voters.

Kevin Feldis, appearing on behalf of Galvin, said the Division of Elections' decision not to include party affiliation in addition to nominating party registration on the ballot breaks Alaska law. “This is not a design change, this is a removal of a statutory requirement,” he said, citing that Galvin appeared as a non-affiliated candidate in the August Democratic primary.

The Alaska Supreme Court ruled in August of 2018 that independents could run as Democratic nominees in Alaska elections. Galvin ran unsuccessfully that year as an undeclared candidate against Young.

Fenumiai, writing by email, said, "In a scramble to get ballots finalized following the decision, the Division ended up putting both the nominating party and the registered affiliation on the general election ballot.

“But, this was not required by the Alaska Supreme Court decision, and the Court, in fact, stated: “On the general election ballot, the State could simply print the nominating party’s name next to the candidate’s name.”

Feldis said in court that Fenumiai has cited the 2018 decision out of context. The point of the decision was that party affiliation and registration are separate and both are required to be printed on a ballot, he argued.

Margaret Paton-Walsh, a state attorney appearing on behalf of the Division of Elections, disagreed, saying that Galvin’s candidacy as an independent may be a critical part of her identity but it wasn’t necessary for the state to print that information on the ballot.

Quoting a 2002 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision, Paton-Walsh said, “The ballot is a ballot, not a bumper sticker.”

Paton-Walsh said that the Division of Elections had made the ballot design decision in June and that it was unknown if the state could reprint roughly 800,000 ballots promptly. “Reprinting the ballots is going to be a gigantic problem, it’s not just a matter of pressing print on your computer and having it spit out pages,” Paton-Walsh said.

The controversy over the ballots was brought to wider attention after political blog the Alaska Landmine posted samples to Twitter on Monday. The Anchorage Daily News then broke the story about the fury felt by Alaska Democrats.

“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,” Lindsay Kavanaugh, the executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party, said by email.

Galvin and Gross have made their nonpartisan status a focal point of their campaigns.

“I am not a liberal Washington Democrat, I am an independent,” Galvin said in August.

Gross said he would caucus with Democrats if elected to the Senate but described himself as a centrist. “I will certainly be a hard brake on the liberal left of the Democratic Party which is something I think the party needs,” he added.

The Sullivan and Young campaigns have suggested their opponents' independent status is disingenuous.

Truman Reed, a spokesperson for the Young campaign, said Galvin had sought the Democratic nomination and was being funded by Democrats.

“At the same time she wants to hide behind a banner of calling herself an independent candidate. Alaska law allows you to get on the ballot as an independent through a petition process; however, Ms. Galvin didn’t choose that course,” Reed said by email.

Matt Shuckerow, Sullivan’s campaign manager, had similar questions about Gross and his campaign as an independent. "He actively sought out and secured the backing of the Alaska Democratic Party, and I’m not really sure why he doesn’t want that affiliation now,” Shuckerow said.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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