In this Nov. 8, 2016 photo, election volunteer Lily Hong Campbell hands William Grooms a voter sticker after he cast his ballot at AEL&P. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

In this Nov. 8, 2016 photo, election volunteer Lily Hong Campbell hands William Grooms a voter sticker after he cast his ballot at AEL&P. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Alaska GOP may seek courts’ help to keep unwanted candidates off the ballot

The Alaska Republican Party cannot prevent three lawmakers from appearing on election ballots as Republicans, the Alaska Division of Elections declared in a letter dated April 18.

The letter, signed by Josie Bahnke, director of the Alaska Division of Elections, says that a recent Alaska Supreme Court decision does not allow the Republican Party to deny the Republican party’s label to Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak.

It was released to the Empire after an email request on Tuesday.

“Absent controlling authority to the contrary, the Division of Elections must follow existing law,” the letter states. “The Division will allow any eligible Republican who files a timely declaration of candidacy to appear on the ballot, and the voters will decide.”

Tuckerman Babcock, chairman of the party, said by phone on Wednesday that “the letter is rather vacuous in that it doesn’t even make an effort to cite statute or quote precedent.”

He summarized its message: “Basically, unless we’re told by a court to do it, we’re not going to do it.”

Babcock said he will meet with an attorney and the Republican Party’s state executive committee on Monday to consider different courses of action.

At stake in the disagreement is whether an Alaskan can run in a party’s primary election, even if the party does not want them to.

In 2016, the Republican Party withdrew financial support for LeDoux, Seaton and Stutes after they joined Democrats and independents in a coalition controlling the Alaska House of Representatives.

In December, the party went a step farther and voted to change its rules in an attempt to block the three from running in the August 2018 Republican statehouse primaries. At that time, the Division of Elections said the action had not been done in time to affect the 2018 election.

In the first week of April, the Alaska Democratic Party prevailed in a lawsuit against the state. In that suit, the party sought to allow independents into its party primary. The state fought the party’s request, saying it would break the state’s election system by breaking down the walls of what defines a political party.

The Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the Democratic Party, however, and independents may now run in the August Democratic primary. Several candidates, including Juneau’s Rob Edwardson, have said they will take advantage of the ruling.

A little more than a week after the Supreme Court ruling, Babcock sent a letter to the Division of Elections, saying that in the party’s view, the ruling had changed the ground rules for not just Democrats, but also Republicans.

“This is definitely a straight-line link (between the two cases),” Babcock said by phone on Wednesday.

“The constitutional principle is exactly the same: Either the state writes the rules for (the election), or the party writes the rules for it,” he said.

By email, Bahnke said, “The Department of Law has advised that the Court’s decision in Alaska Democratic Party v. State has not changed the law in any way relevant to ARP’s request; and anything contrary will need to be decided by the courts.”

Babcock said that if the matter does go to the courts, the party will seek to have an injunction or ruling in time for the August primary. The implications of any legal decision will be felt sooner than that: June 1 is the deadline for a candidate to register for the fall elections.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at or 523-2258.

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