Alaska Supreme Court rules Armstrong eligible to serve in legislature

“We affirm the superior court’s ultimate conclusion that Ms. Armstrong was a qualified candidate as required by law. A full decision will follow."
Published: Jan. 13, 2023 at 4:13 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In a 2-1 decision made by the Alaska Supreme Court, House District 16 winner Jennie Armstrong’s eligible Alaska residency was confirmed, meaning that she can serve her term in the Alaska House of Representatives.

Former Republican Rep. Liz Vazquez ran against Armstrong and lost the election by over 10% of the ballots cast in the West Anchorage house district. Vazquez, Chris Duke, Randy Eledge, Steve Strait and Kathryn Werdahl sought to have the results overturned after a post on Instagram brought into question when Armstrong moved to Alaska, and therefore when she officially became a resident.

Attorney Stacey Stone represented Vazquez, and argued that Armstrong did not become a resident upon stating her intent to make Alaska her home on May 19 of 2019, but did so on June 8 — which fell after the June 1 date which would establish three years of residency and allow Armstrong to file for elected office.

“There has to be some objective evidence some demonstration that you’re not here on vacation, that you are actually here residing within the state of Alaska,” Stone argued before the Alaska Supreme Court. “It’s not just about joining the state it’s about removing from the prior state.”

Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court Daniel Winfree and Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Henderson agreed with Anchorage Superior Court Judge Herman Walker’s decision that Armstrong’s residence in Alaska was established on May 19.

“We affirm the superior court’s ultimate conclusion that Ms. Armstrong was a qualified candidate as required by law. A full decision will follow,” Henderson and Winfree wrote in the decision posted just hours after the hearing concluded.

Stone argued that residency requirements laid out in Alaska Statute 01.10.055 should be used in concert with those found in Title 15, thus requiring a 30-day period to establish residency before someone can claim to be a resident of Alaska, without having undertaken such concrete measures as changing a drivers license, signing a lease, buying a home or registering to vote. Stone argued that residency is not established on the first day someone is in Alaska, but after the 30th day.

“It was not soon enough to meet the constitutional requirement for residency to run for the state legislature for this cycle,” Stone said. “I think it is unreasonable and implausible to indicate that you are able to gain residency on the 10th day without any formal acts of becoming an actual resident of the state.”

Supreme Court Justice Susan Carney was the one dissenting voice in the decision.

“I would reverse the superior court’s determination that Ms. Armstrong was a qualified candidate,” Carney wrote.

Presenting on behalf of the Alaska Division of Elections and Lt. Governor Nancy Dahlstrom was Laura Wolff, who called into question the idea that 30 days must be added to any specific residency requirements.

“If that’s the case then every single statute, you know you know you can’t do a PFD unless you’ve been here for a year plus — and 30 days — and everything would have an and 30 days tacked on to it I don’t know that any agency has ever thought that,” Wolff said.

Arguing on behalf of Armstrong — who received 4,237 votes to 3,432 for Vazquez — was Scott Kendall, who felt judge Walker’s decision was not made in error, and that the facts presented in Superior Court had been objective and not subjective. Kendall noted that Armstrong’s intent was not only made by the items she left in Alaska at the end of her vacation on which she stated her intent to move permanently to the state and the specific residence she made plans to move into, but also that she then followed through on that intent.

“Ms. Armstrong’s entire life since then is corroborating evidence,” Kendall said.

Kendall also rejected the idea that the Instagram post made on June 13 was a definitive statement of location or residency.

“Ms. Vazquez makes a lot of a single Instagram post, but I want to let the court know something,” Kendall said. “If you’re not familiar with Instagram, Instagram is not real life.”

The Alaska Legislature is set to gavel into session on Tuesday, Jan. 17. Armstrong will represent House District 16 in an Alaska House of Representatives that has yet to organize into majority and minority caucuses.