Justia Election Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court
Pruitt v. State of Alaska, Division of Elections
In this case in the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska, a candidate who narrowly lost an election brought a case alleging that the Division of Elections had improperly allowed some voters to cast ballots without meeting constitutional and statutory residency requirements. The court upheld the election results in favor of the opposing candidate and dismissed the losing candidate's lawsuit. The winning candidate then moved for attorney’s fees and costs, asserting that certain claims made in the election contest were frivolous or made in bad faith. The court agreed and awarded the winning candidate full attorney’s fees and costs related to those claims. The losing candidate appealed, arguing that he was protected from an adverse attorney’s fees award as a constitutional claimant and that the court failed to follow proper procedure for imposing fees and costs as sanctions. The Alaska Supreme Court held that the unsuccessful candidate’s constitutional claims were not frivolous or made in bad faith and reversed the award of attorney’s fees and costs. However, the court ruled that the unsuccessful candidate is not exempt from sanctions for violating court rules after notice and an opportunity to be heard and remanded for further proceedings to determine whether sanctions could be awarded for violations of court rules. View "Pruitt v. State of Alaska, Division of Elections" on Justia Law
In the Matter of the 2021 Redistricting Cases
The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska reviewed challenges to a redistricting plan adopted by the Alaska Redistricting Board. After the 2020 census, the Board adopted a plan for 40 House of Representative districts and 20 Senate districts. Several entities filed challenges to this plan, arguing that certain districts were unconstitutional due to violations of due process and gerrymandering. The superior court found two House districts and one Senate district to be unconstitutional and directed the Board to undertake further redistricting efforts. Four petitions for review were filed with the Supreme Court.The Court affirmed the superior court's ruling regarding the Senate district, but reversed the ruling regarding the two House districts. The Court found that the Board did not violate the "hard look" requirement, which requires that the Board seriously consider all salient problems and engage in reasoned decision-making. The Court also held that the Board sufficiently complied with the Hickel process, a procedural sequence that ensures the redistricting satisfies federal law without unnecessarily compromising the Alaska Constitution.Furthermore, the Court determined that the Board did not have discriminatory intent in its actions, and that the minor deviations in population among various districts did not violate the "one person, one vote" requirement. The Court also concluded that the Board did not violate the provision requiring each House district to contain a population as near as practicable to the quotient obtained by dividing the population of the state by forty.Regarding the Senate district, the Court affirmed the superior court’s conclusion that the relevant Senate district pairings were an unconstitutional gerrymander. The Court remanded the case for further redistricting efforts consistent with its order. View "In the Matter of the 2021 Redistricting Cases" on Justia Law
Guerin, et al. v. Alaska, Division of Elections
Alaska’s United States Representative Don Young died unexpectedly in March 2022. Following his death, Alaska held a special primary election and a special general election to select a candidate to complete the remainder of his term. Those special elections were conducted using ranked-choice voting procedures adopted by voters through a 2020 ballot measure. After the 2022 special primary election but before the vote was certified, the candidate who then had the third-most votes withdrew. The Division of Elections (Division) determined that it would remove the withdrawn candidate’s name from the special general election ballot, but would not include on the ballot the candidate who had received the fifth-most votes in the special primary election. Several voters brought suit against the Division challenging that decision. The superior court determined the Division’s actions complied with the law and granted summary judgment in favor of the Division. The voters appealed. Due to the time-sensitive nature of election appeals, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court in a short order dated June 25, 2022. The Court explained that because the Division properly applied a statutorily mandated 64-day time limit that prevented the addition of the special primary’s fifth-place candidate to the special general election ballot, and because the statutory mandate did not violate the voters’ constitutional rights, summary judgment was affirmed in favor of the Division. View "Guerin, et al. v. Alaska, Division of Elections" on Justia Law
Alaska Division of Elections v. Alaska State Commission for Human Rights, ex rel. B.L.
A special election was scheduled to fill Alaska’s vacant seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Due to time constraints the election was conducted entirely by mail. The Division of Elections created an online ballot delivery system to accommodate visually impaired Alaskans, but the system required voters to print out their ballots and return them by mail or fax or at a drop-off location. An organization advocating for the rights of visually impaired Alaskans sued the Division, seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that would prevent the Division from certifying the election results until visually impaired voters were able to participate independently. The superior court granted the preliminary injunction. Because the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court erred in its analysis of the tests for granting a preliminary injunction, it vacated the order on June 11, 2022. This opinion explained the Supreme Court's reasoning. View "Alaska Division of Elections v. Alaska State Commission for Human Rights, ex rel. B.L." on Justia Law
Kohlhaas, et al. v.Alaska, Division of Elections, et al.
In 2020 Alaska voters approved, by a slim margin, a ballot initiative that made sweeping changes to Alaska’s system of elections. The changes included replacing the system of political party primary elections with a nonpartisan primary election and adopting ranked-choice voting for the general election. A coalition of politically active voters and a political party filed suit, arguing that these changes violated the Alaska Constitution. The superior court ruled otherwise. The Alaska Supreme Court considered the appeal on an expedited basis and affirmed the superior court’s judgment in a brief order. The Court concluded the challengers did not carry their burden to show that the Alaska Constitution prohibited the election system Alaska voters have chosen. The Court published its opinion to explain its reasoning. View "Kohlhaas, et al. v.Alaska, Division of Elections, et al." on Justia Law
Jones v. Biggs
An Alaska citizen filed an application to recall a member of the Anchorage Assembly, alleging that the assembly member had committed misconduct in office by participating in an indoor gathering of more than 15 people in violation of an executive order. The municipal clerk rejected the application after concluding that the alleged conduct did not constitute misconduct in office. The superior court reversed the clerk’s denial of the application. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Jones v. Biggs" on Justia Law
Young v. Alaska
The Alaska lieutenant governor refused to certify an application for a ballot initiative, and the group backing the initiative filed suit. In a court-approved stipulation, the Division of Elections agreed to print the signature booklets and make them available to the initiative’s sponsors without waiting for the court to decide whether the initiative application should have been certified. A voter sued the State, asserting that it would violate the initiative process laid out in article XI, section 3 of the Alaska Constitution if the signature booklets were printed and made available before the initiative had been certified. In response the State and the initiative group entered into a new stipulation providing that the State would not make the signature booklets available until the court ordered it. The superior court granted the State summary judgment in the voter’s suit, concluding that he lacked standing and his case was moot. The voter appealed, arguing he had standing and that his case should have been heard because of two exceptions to the mootness doctrine: the public interest exception and the voluntary cessation exception. Without reaching the issue of standing, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s judgment on mootness grounds, concluding that the court did not abuse its discretion by declining to apply either exception to the doctrine. View "Young v. Alaska" on Justia Law
Pruitt v. Alaska
After a narrow loss in the general election for Alaska House District 27, Lance Pruitt contested the result. The superior court dismissed Pruitt’s multi-count complaint for failure to state a valid claim. But in order to expedite the case’s eventual review, the court heard evidence on a single count: Pruitt’s claim that the Division of Elections committed malconduct that influenced the election by moving a polling place without notifying the public in all the ways required by law. After considering the evidence, the superior court ruled that Pruitt did not show either that the lack of notice amounted to malconduct or that it was sufficient to change the results of the election. Pruitt appealed only the count on which the court heard evidence. In order to resolve this election contest before the start of the legislative session, the Alaska Supreme Court issued a brief order stating that Pruitt had not met his burden to sustain an election contest. This opinion explained the Court’s reasoning. Although the count alleging inadequate notice should not have been dismissed for failure to state a claim, the Court held it did not succeed on the merits. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the superior court’s judgment. View "Pruitt v. Alaska" on Justia Law
Alaska, Office of Lieutenant Governor, Division of Elections v. Arctic Village Council, et al.
About two months before the 2020 general election, a village government, a nonpartisan political organization, and two individual Alaska voters sought to enjoin the State from enforcing a statute that required absentee ballots to be witnessed by an official or other adult. They argued that, under the unusual circumstances posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the witness requirement unconstitutionally burdened the right to vote. The superior court granted a preliminary injunction, concluding that the State’s interests in maintaining the witness requirement were outweighed by the burden that requirement would impose on the right to vote during times of community lockdowns and strict limits on person-to-person contact. The court also rejected the State’s laches defense, reasoning that the unpredictability of the pandemic’s course made it reasonable for the plaintiffs to wait as long as they did before filing suit. The State petitioned for review. After an expedited oral argument the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision, finding no abuse of discretion. This opinion explained the Court's reasoning. View "Alaska, Office of Lieutenant Governor, Division of Elections v. Arctic Village Council, et al." on Justia Law
Alaska Public Offices Commission v. Patrick, et al.
In 2012, the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) issued an advisory opinion stating that the contribution limits in Alaska’s campaign finance law were unconstitutional as applied to contributions to independent expenditure groups. In 2018, three individuals filed complaints with APOC alleging that independent expenditure groups had exceeded Alaska’s contribution limits. APOC declined to enforce the contribution limits based on its advisory opinion. The individuals appealed to the superior court, which reversed APOC’s dismissal of the complaints and ordered APOC to reconsider its advisory opinion in light of a recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision. APOC appealed, arguing that it should not have been required to enforce laws it viewed as unconstitutional and that its constitutional determination was correct. Because the Alaska Supreme Court found it was error to reverse APOC’s dismissal of the complaints, it reversed the superior court’s order. View "Alaska Public Offices Commission v. Patrick, et al." on Justia Law