Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court
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A recall committee submitted an application to the Alaska Division of Elections seeking to recall the governor, citing lack of fitness, incompetence, and neglect of duties as grounds. The director refused to certify the application, asserting that it was not legally or factually sufficient. The committee challenged the director’s decision in superior court. That court granted summary judgment for the committee, deciding that except for one allegation, which it struck, the allegations in the committee’s application were legally and factually sufficient. The committee was allowed to move on to the second phase of signature-gathering on its recall petition; if it was successful, the director would call a special election to allow the voters to decide whether the governor should be recalled. The State appealed, and the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision in a summary order with an opinion to follow. By this opinion, the Supreme Court explained why the committee’s recall application satisfied the legal requirements for presentation to the voters. View "Alaska Division of Elections v. Recall Dunleavy" on Justia Law

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Alyse Galvin was an Alaska Democratic Party nominee for office, but registered as a nonpartisan voter. She sued to stop the state Division of Elections from sending out already-printed ballots for the 2020 general election, arguing that the Division’s ballot design, by omitting her nonpartisan voter registration, violated both a statutory directive to designate a candidate’s party affiliation on the ballot and Galvin’s right to free political association under the Alaska Constitution. After the superior court issued a temporary restraining order, the Division petitioned for review. But the following day, the superior court denied Galvin’s request for a preliminary injunction; the Alaska Supreme Court granted her emergency cross-petition for review and affirmed the superior court’s decision in a summary order with this explanation to follow. The Court concluded the Division’s evidence supported the superior court’s factual finding that granting Galvin’s requested injunction would have jeopardized the prospects of a successful and timely election. The superior court did not abuse its discretion by denying Galvin’s requested preliminary injunction because granting the injunction could have imperiled the public interest in an orderly and timely election. View "Alaska Division of Elections v. Galvin" on Justia Law

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A national political organization engaged an Alaska media consultant to reserve over $1 million worth of television advertising time prior to the 2018 gubernatorial primary race. The national organization did not register with the Alaska Public Office Commission, and did not report the reservations to the agency. The Commission concluded that this conduct violated a statute requiring all entities to register before making any “expenditures,” including promises or agreements to transfer something of value, to influence an election. The superior court affirmed the Commission’s decision on appeal. The national organization appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, arguing that the Commission defined “expenditures” too broadly. The Supreme Court concluded the Commission reasonably interpreted the campaign finance statute to include agreements to purchase television advertising, even when these agreements were not legally binding. The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision affirming the Commission’s order. View "Republican Governors Association v. Alaska Public Offices Commission" on Justia Law

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Sponsors of an initiative that would revise taxation for a defined set of oil producers filed a superior court complaint seeking declaratory judgment that the lieutenant governor’s initiative ballot summary was not true and impartial. The superior court held that one ballot summary sentence included “partisan suasion” by weighing in on a disputed initiative provision’s meaning, and the court ordered that sentence deleted. The lieutenant governor appealed, arguing that the disputed sentence was fair and impartial, but requesting that, if the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision, the Supreme Court allow the lieutenant governor to insert a proposed replacement sentence. After expedited briefing and oral arguments, the Supreme Court issued a brief order affirming the court’s ruling and judgment but allowing, at the lieutenant governor’s discretion, the portion of the proposed replacement sentence to which the sponsors had no objection. The Supreme Court stated that “[a]n opinion explaining the reasoning for this order will follow at a later date.” This opinion set forth the reasons for the earlier order. View "Alaska Office of Lieutenant Governor, Division of Elections v. Vote Yes for Alaska's Fair Share" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from the State’s action limiting the people's constitutional right to legislate directly by initiative. A proposed initiative instituting three substantive changes to Alaska's election laws was submitted to the lieutenant governor for review, certification and printing signature booklets. Determining the initiative violated a constitutional requirement that proposed initiative bills be confined to one subject, the lieutenant governor denied certification. The initiative's sponsors filed an action in superior court to challenge that decision. The superior court concluded, contrary to the lieutenant governor, that the initiative's various provisions were confined to the single subject of "election reform" and it accordingly should have been certified. The Court directed the State distribute petition booklets for the sponsors to collect signatures for placing the initiative on a future election ballot. The lieutenant governor and State elections officials appealed the superior court decision. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the superior court correctly adhered to the Supreme Court's prior interpretation of the relevant provisions of the constitution. Furthermore, the Court rejected the request to reverse precedent that the people's power to initiate laws generally was equivalent to that of the legislature. View "Meyer v. Alaskans for Better Elections" on Justia Law

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This recount appeal arose out of the 2018 Alaska House of Representatives race for District 1. Following a recount the election was certified, with Kathryn Dodge receiving 2,662 votes and Barton LeBon receiving 2,663. Dodge filed this recount appeal pursuant to AS 15.20.510, arguing: (1) one ballot, excluded as “overvoted” because it contained markings in more than one oval, should have been counted for her; (2) two counted ballots should have been excluded because they had been cast by individuals who were not residents of the district; and (3) one ballot, excluded due to the voter’s registration in another district, should have been counted because the voter’s registration in the other district was inadvertent. LeBon challenged the same overvoted ballot as Dodge, but he argued it should have been included as a vote for him. LeBon also challenged five additional ballots. The Director maintained her original vote-counting decisions in the face of these challenges. At a hearing on December 20, 2018, a superior court issued a recommendation to uphold the Director of the Division of Elections’ vote-counting decisions. On January 4, 2019, the Alaska Supreme Court issued an order affirming the recount decision and indicated that this opinion would follow. View "LeBon v. Meyer" on Justia Law

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Appellant Ronda Marcy, resident of Matanuska-Susitna Borough, filed suit against the borough and citizens who had sponsored a borough ballot initiative prohibiting commercial marijuana businesses. The suit, filed 32 days before the borough election, sought declaratory and injunctive relief that the initiative was unconstitutional and unlawful and should be removed from the election ballot. Given the imminent election, the superior court ordered the case held in abeyance pending the initiative vote’s outcome. After borough voters rejected the initiative, the court dismissed the case as moot. Marcy appealed, arguing the merits of her declaratory judgment claim should have been heard under the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine and that the superior court issued procedurally defective orders, violated her due process rights, and erroneously awarded attorney’s fees against her. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court because it did not abuse its discretion in its procedural decisions; the resident’s due process rights were not violated; the Court declined to invoke the public interest exception to address the moot claims; and the resident failed to properly bring her attorney’s fees appeal. View "Marcy v. Matanuska-Susitna Borough" on Justia Law

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In 2016, a recount was ordered to settle a very close Alaska Democratic Party primary election for House District 40. Dean Westlake was declared the victor by eight votes. The defeated candidate, Benjamin Nageak, brought two legal challenges to the primary results. He and four others contested the election in the superior court pursuant to AS 15.20.540. He also filed a direct appeal of the recount with the Alaska Supreme Court pursuant to AS 15.20.510. The Supreme Court stayed the direct appeal and, after a trial, the superior court granted relief on the election contest. The court found that election officials in Shungnak, who gave ballots for both the Alaska Democratic Party and Alaska Republican Party primaries to every voter, had committed malconduct that changed the outcome of the election. The court ordered the Director of the Division of Elections to certify Nageak as the winner after proportionately reducing the votes from Shungnak. The Division and Westlake appealed the superior court’s rulings against them. Nageak cross-appealed the court’s rulings against him. The Supreme Court consolidated the appeal from the superior court in the election contest with the recount appeal from the Division, and reversed the superior court’s decision and reinstated the Director’s certification of Westlake as the winner of the election. View "Nageak v. Mallott" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Democratic Party amended its bylaws to allow registered independent voters to run as candidates in its primary elections without having to become Democratic Party members. But the Division of Elections refused to allow independent voter candidates on the Democratic Party primary election ballot, taking the position that Alaska election law, specifically the “party affiliation rule,” prevented anyone not registered as a Democrat from being a candidate in the Democratic Party’s primary elections. The Democratic Party sued for declaratory and injunctive relief preventing enforcement of the party affiliation rule, and the superior court ruled in its favor. The State appealed. Because the Alaska Constitution’s free association guarantee protects a political party’s choice to open its primary elections to independent voter candidates, and because in this specific context the State had no countervailing need to enforce the party affiliation rule, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Alaska v. Alaska Democratic Party" on Justia Law

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A complaint filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) against John Eberhart was filed when he was a city council member, alleging Eberhart had improperly used government resources in his campaign for mayor of Fairbanks. After investigating the complaint and holding a hearing, APOC fined Eberhart $37.50 for improper use of government resources in violation of a state statute. Eberhart appealed to the superior court, which affirmed APOC’s decision. Eberhart petitioned the Alaska Supreme Court to find APOC misinterpreted and misapplied relevant statutes, violated the First Amendment, and violated its own procedural rules. The Supreme Court affirmed APOC’s decision, holding that Eberhart’s arguments lacked merit. View "Eberhart v. Alaska Public Offices Commission" on Justia Law