Alaska Republican House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, left, speaks with Rep. George Rauscher on the floor of the House in March 2020. A recount found Pruitt lost his Anchorage seat to Democrat Liz Snyder by 11 votes. Pruitt's attorney says the court should order a new election, arguing that election officials did not do enough to notify voters of a polling place change. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

Alaska Supreme Court rules against Pruitt election challenge

No new election, court says.

  • Friday, January 8, 2021 5:25pm
  • News

By BECKY BOHRER

Associated Press

The Alaska Supreme Court on Friday ruled against Republican Minority Leader Lance Pruitt’s bid for a new election after a recount showed he lost his state House seat by 11 votes.

Pruitt attorney Stacey Stone asked the court to order a new election, arguing state election officials did not properly act in changing a polling location.

But the Supreme Court, in a brief order issued after hearing arguments earlier in the day, said it agreed with a lower court that Pruitt “has not met his burden to sustain an election contest.” It sent the case back to the lower court for a final order stating the winner of the race, a step under law in closing out such a challenge.

The Supreme Court said it would issue an order detailing its reasoning later.

A recount showed Pruitt had lost to Democrat Liz Snyder in the Anchorage race. Pruitt has served in the House for 10 years.

Snyder, by text, called Friday’s decision “a win for Alaskans and for fair elections.” She said she’s ready to come to Juneau, the state capital, “and get to work, like the district elected me to do.” The new legislative session is set to begin Jan. 19.

Stone, by email, said she respected the court’s decision, “but we hope the Division addresses the issues that occurred in Precinct 915 so that these type of events do not occur in the future, and that all voters constitutional rights are guaranteed,” she said, referring to the Division of Elections.

An email seeking comment was sent to the Department of Law, which represented the division.

Superior Court Judge Josie Garton recently found that election officials could have done more but acted in “good faith” in trying to notify voters of the change to an Anchorage polling site days before the Nov. 3 election.

Garton said Pruitt had not shown that any voter was kept from voting because of any lack of required notice.

Stone had argued that the Division of Elections should have acted sooner to confirm whether a planned polling location would be available for the November election and done more to provide notice when they learned it wasn’t.

In arguments Friday, she called the late change to the polling site a “state-created emergency” prompted by actions she called negligent.

According to state filings in the case, the polling location was changed twice last year. It was changed from its typical location a day before the August primary when officials learned the original site would require COVID-19 screening questions for people to enter.

The owner of the new site declined to host it again for the general election, according to the filings. An election official learned this when she called him on Oct. 22 to confirm if the location — already hosting another precinct — would be available.

The division nailed down a backup location on Oct. 27, and voters were notified with signs at the prior locations and with website and voter hotline updates, a filing by Assistant Attorneys General Laura Fox, Thomas Flynn and Margaret Paton Walsh states.

Fox told the Supreme Court the division did not fail to get a polling place.

“They thought they had a polling place,” she said, adding that the division “did not learn until later that the property owner was going to have a problem with that.” Election officials took reasonable steps to provide notice of the change, Fox said.

Holly Wells, an attorney for Snyder, argued that Pruitt’s claims have changed as the case has gone on.

“And it really has this feel of … it feels like a witch hunt,” Wells said. “It feels like you are trying to do exactly the opposite of validating an election. You are trying to tear it down, and you’ll do it by any means possible. And when I say you, I mean the plaintiff.”

Stone said the case was not about “political gamesmanship.”

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