Anchorage judge throws out all but one of Pruitt’s election complaints before hearing starts

The case is now focusing on the allegation that a late polling location change disenfranchised voters
Rep. Lance Pruitt is challenging his election loss in court.
Rep. Lance Pruitt is challenging his election loss in court.(KTUU)
Published: Dec. 22, 2020 at 2:24 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - An Anchorage Superior Court judge has thrown out all but one of the complaints made by Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, in his effort to overturn his election loss in court.

Democratic Representative-elect Liz Snyder defeated Pruitt by 11 votes after the Division of Elections held a recount and certified election results on Dec. 2.

Pruitt filed a lawsuit on Dec. 9, alleging that voters were not appropriately informed of a polling location change made the week before the election, meaning some of his supporters had been disenfranchised. He also alleged that there were examples of voters who weren’t residents and at least one case where someone had voted twice.

The claim that any specific House District 27 voter had voted twice was subsequently withdrawn by Pruitt.

An evidentiary hearing was scheduled in an Anchorage Superior courtroom on Tuesday, but Judge Josie Garton surprised many when she first announced that she was dismissing all of Pruitt’s four separate allegations.

“None of the factual allegations contained in the complaint give rise to an inference that voters were actually disenfranchised,” Garton wrote in her order.

Garton said that only Pruitt’s polling location change allegation would be heard in a Tuesday evidentiary hearing and that she dismissed it due to a ”pleading error.“ The Alaska Supreme Court is set to hear a related recount appeal in January.

But, Garton said that under Alaska law, Pruitt’s complaints about the polling location change needed to show evidence that election officials were trying to influence voters in a particular way or that they were recklessly indifferent to the law’s noticing requirements. “The complaint alleges neither,” she said.

During the evidentiary hearing, some election workers gave evidence why the polling location change had been made from Muldoon Town Center to Begich Middle School. The owner of the Muldoon Town Center did not want two polling places operating at the center, said Julie Hussman, the elections supervisor for Anchorage.

Signs were placed at Muldoon Town Center about the new polling location, but Pruitt and his attorney said that information was not easily available on the Division of Elections website on or before Election Day. They said there weren’t other types of notifications sent out either.

Randolph Ruedrich, a former Alaska GOP chairman, analyzed voter data of surrounding precincts and estimated that 57 residents had not voted because of the polling change. He believed that meant some reliably Republican voters had not cast their ballots for Pruitt.

Under questioning from state attorney Margaret Paton-Walsh, Ruedrich would not discuss whether the polling location change had directly contributed to lower voter turnout.

Before the evidentiary hearing began, Garton’s order to dismiss was released which stated that several of Pruitt’s complaints were filed late and some of them should have been heard during a recount appeal and not in a courtroom.

Pruitt initially submitted property records that alleged 21 voters had sold their homes close to the date of the election, suggesting they had moved out of the district and were not eligible to vote. “Selling real property does not divest a voter of residency, or even give rise to an inference that a voter is no longer a resident,” Garton wrote.

Pruitt later withdrew the names of 15 of those voters he implied had voted improperly.

“Plaintiff’s withdrawal of the names of 15 of the 21 voters he publicly accused, without any basis, improperly voted in the election, demonstrates the danger of allowing contestants to question voter qualifications after an election through election contests,” Garton wrote.

The lawsuit also claimed that the Division of Elections could not ensure the integrity of the elections process after the Alaska Supreme Court waived the witness signature requirement for absentee ballots.

Garton said that under Alaska law, the state was not required to create an alternate way to review witness signatures on absentee ballots. She also wrote that Pruitt needed to provide evidence that waiving the witness signature requirement could have altered the election results. He hadn’t, she said.

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