Lawsuit filed over lack of ballot-curing process in Alaska elections

Lawsuit filed over lack of ballot-curing process in Alaska elections
Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 3:43 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The American Civil Liberties Union and others have filed a lawsuit against Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer and Department of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai in Superior Court for the right to a ballot-curing process in Alaskan elections.

The ACLU was joined by the Native American Rights Fund and Perkins Coie, who are providing legal representation to the League of Women Voters, the Arctic Village Council, and two individual Alaskans who had their ballots rejected during the special primary election, which was conducted by mail.

“Every vote counts and the state could take lead from any of the other many states that have already put in place measures to fix curable issues instead of rejecting votes,” NARF Staff Attorney Megan Condon said. “Without changes to the current system, the state can continue to reject a great number of votes cast by Alaska Natives and rural voters.”

The complaint filing states that 24 other states and the Municipality of Anchorage already have ballot-curing processes in place, allowing for voters who did not complete all the ballot requirements or who made mistakes on their ballot to fill them out correctly — without having their ballot opened.

“Affected voters were disenfranchised because they were never given an opportunity to cure the reason the Division of Elections rejected their ballots — even when the Division of Elections discovered the inadvertent ballot envelope errors well before vote counts were finalized,” the complaint stated.

The complaint notes that 16% of ballots were rejected from the Lower Kuskokwim River and Bethel areas, which are made up of 83% Native Alaskans. There were 7,468 rejected mail-in ballots during the special primary election, 4.5% of the total ballots cast.

“Alaska’s overall rejection rate of 4.5% stands in stark contrast to data showing that, nationwide, absentee ballot rejection rates were ‘consistently below 1.5% from 2010 to 2018, and just .79% in 2020,’” the complaint states. “Defendants have unduly burdened Plaintiffs’ right to vote and violated their right to procedural due process as guaranteed by the Alaska Consitution, Article V, Section 1, and Article I, Section 7, respectively, by failing to provide voters with timely notice and an opportunity to cure deficient ballot envelopes before the ballots they contain are rejected.”

Of the rejected ballots, 3% were rejected by the division because of ballot defects — such as missing witness signatures, voter ID numbers, or voter signatures — and many voters whose ballots were rejected were not notified with a letter from the division until after the election results had been certified.

On July 19, the group sent “a demand letter” to Meyer and Fenumiai, who responded on July 27 but did not implement a ballot-curing process. The plaintiffs in the suit are asking the court to expedite their ruling, allowing for a ballot-curing process to be implemented for the November general election.

“Defendants’ actions and inactions unduly burden the right to vote and violate the due process rights of voters guaranteed by the Alaska Constitution,” the complaint said.

The two private citizens who are included in the complaint are Joyce M. Anderson and Edward H. Toal IV, both of Anchorage. Anderson was the director of Elections and Voter Registration for Minneapolis, Minnesota, for 15 years and claimed to have made a mistake on her ballot that she was not notified of until after the election had been certified. Toal “mistakenly thought that a witness signature was unnecessary because he believed that the Alaska Supreme Court had struck down the requirement in full.”