Alaska ballots won't note candidates' party affiliation, only how they were nominated

Independent Alyse Galvin, the Democrats' House nominee, sued to stop this.

September 18, 2020, 11:14 PM

The Alaska Supreme Court declined to overturn a Superior Court ruling Friday that declared the state elections division did not have to reprint 2020 general election ballots that do not include candidates' party affiliations, delivering a blow to independent candidates who secured the Democratic nominations for the state's House and Senate races.

Alyse Galvin, a nonpartisan candidate, but the Democratic nominee for Alaska's at large House seat, filed a lawsuit Tuesday after the Alaska Division of Elections quietly changed how candidates would appear on the ballot -- just days before ballots were set to go out to military and overseas voters, which had to be done by Friday under federal law.

After initially granting a temporary restraining order, stopping the elections division from printing any more ballots, Superior Court Judge Jennifer Henderson ruled Friday morning that she wouldn't order the state to reprint the 800,000 ballots in question.

For a candidate like Galvin, who has been a registered independent since 2006, only being reflected on the ballot as tied to the Democratic Party could be a campaign killer.

Republicans hold the governorship, lieutenant governorship and all seats in Congress, but the states' voters are markedly independent. While Democrats make up 13% and Republicans make up 24% of registered voters statewide, nearly 6 in 10 voters are registered as either nonpartisan or undeclared.

Henderson, speaking from the bench, said that even though she did believe not having her party affiliation on the ballot would cause harm to Galvin's candidacy, forcing the state to reprint the ballots would cause more harm, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

In the state Supreme Court's ruling, Chief Justice Joel Bolger said that to overturn a Superior Court's order regarding a preliminary injunction, the justices must consider whether there was "abuse of discretion" by the judge.

"Applying that standard, we are not convinced that the petitioner has established that the Superior Court abused its discretion in this case," Bolger said in a decision that was streamed virtually. "We therefore affirm the Superior Court decision, denying the motion for preliminary injunction."

PHOTO: Alyse Galvin stands outside her campaign headquarters in Anchorage, Ala.,  Sept. 8, 2020.
Alyse Galvin stands outside her campaign headquarters in Anchorage, Ala., Sept. 8, 2020.
Ash Adams/The New York Times via Redux

In a statement provided to ABC News, Galvin said, "I've been a proud independent for my entire political life. I ran as an independent last time and it's how I'm running now. While I'm disappointed and disagree with this last-minute decision by the Division of Elections, I will continue to fight for better representation for Alaskans all across our state."

Also impacted by this ruling was Dr. Al Gross, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, who is also registered as nonpartisan. He's running against incumbent Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan.

"We aren't contesting [the decision] and are looking forward to winning in November," his communications director, Julia Savel, told ABC News.

What prompted Galvin's lawsuit was a seemingly small -- but potentially consequential -- change to how candidates appear on the ballot.

Instead of noting candidates' party affiliation in parentheses next to their name, only the way the candidate was nominated -- either via the Republican, Democratic or Alaska Independence Party, or by a nominating petition -- would be included on the ballot.

Galvin's lawsuit alleged the change was in violation of state law and would harm her candidacy as her nonpartisan affiliation "has been an important part of her identity, her campaign, and her relationship with her supporters."

Galvin was the Democratic nominee for Alaska's lone House seat in 2018, too, and in all elections since that cycle, including the statewide primary in August, the candidates' party affiliation had been on the ballot, and a key for voters to decipher those letters' meaning was in the top right corner, according to sample ballots available on the Alaska Election Division's website.

That ballot design followed a 2018 ruling from the Alaska Supreme Court in favor of the Alaska Democratic Party, after it filed a lawsuit to overturn a state law that prevented them from having independent candidates be their party's nominees.

PHOTO: Alyse Galvin stands outside her campaign headquarters in Anchorage, Ala.,  Sept. 8, 2020.
Alyse Galvin stands outside her campaign headquarters in Anchorage, Ala., Sept. 8, 2020.
Ash Adams/The New York Times via Redux

Gail Fenumiai, Alaska's elections director, said the decision to remove party affiliation was made unilaterally by her, and in a statement Tuesday, asserted that it "occurred on the normal timeline" and was not politically motivated.

"The Division 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," she said.

However, Lindsay Kavanaugh, the executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party, told ABC News that the Republican administration -- Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, the overseer of elections -- were "effectively putting their thumb on the scale."

"They are not only eliminating the candidate's party affiliation, they are distorting that affiliation and misinforming voters in violation of Alaska statute," Kavanaugh said. "The Republicans clearly perceive this to be more advantageous to themselves or they would have involved stakeholders in decision-making and conducted voter education before making this sweeping unannounced change."

House Democrats' campaign arm, the DCCC, is optimistic Galvin can unseat Republican Rep. Don Young, including her in its "Red to Blue" program, which "arms top-tier candidates with organizational and fundraising support." In 2018, Galvin lost to Young by under 19,000 votes, of 6.6 percentage points.