This photo shows a return envelope from the recent special primary election for Alaska’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. On Friday, a judge sided with the state elections office on a decision to omit fifth-place finisher Tara Sweeney from ballots in the special general election. Al Gross, who finished third in the special primary, dropped out of the race, creating confusing circumstances ahead of Alaska’s first ranked choice vote. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

This photo shows a return envelope from the recent special primary election for Alaska’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. On Friday, a judge sided with the state elections office on a decision to omit fifth-place finisher Tara Sweeney from ballots in the special general election. Al Gross, who finished third in the special primary, dropped out of the race, creating confusing circumstances ahead of Alaska’s first ranked choice vote. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Judge rules Sweeney wont advance to special election

Decision has Sweeney off the ballot for special election.

  • By Becky Bohrer Associated Press
  • Friday, June 24, 2022 6:40pm
  • News

By Becky Bohrer

Associated Press

A state court judge ruled Friday that Alaska elections officials do not need to put the fifth-place finisher in this month’s U.S. House special primary on the upcoming special election ballot in place of a candidate who withdrew.

Superior Court Judge William Morse agreed with the Alaska Division of Elections’ reading of the law, after previously saying he was tentatively inclined to rule that way. His decision was appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Division director Gail Fenumiai had said that because independent Al Gross withdrew less than 64 days before the scheduled Aug. 16 special election, state law did not permit the division to put the fifth-place candidate, Republican Tara Sweeney, on the ballot in his place.

Gross abruptly withdrew his candidacy, with little explanation, earlier this week.

A lawsuit filed by three registered voters Thursday said the division misinterpreted the law and that the timeline cited by the division did not apply to special elections. The lawsuit sought to have Sweeney placed on the special election ballot.

An attorney for the plaintiffs did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Forty-eight candidates ran in the June 11 special primary for Alaska’s only U.S. House seat, which was left vacant by the death of Republican Rep. Don Young in March. Young held the seat for 49 years.

Gross was third in the special primary — behind Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich and ahead of Democrat Mary Peltola. He was poised to advance to the special election as one of the top four vote-getters under a new open primary system.

Fenumiai said Gross withdrew on Tuesday and that the division would remove his name from the special election ballot. That would mean the special election ballot would include three candidates and a space for voters to rank a write-in candidate, she said in an affidavit.

The special primary was the first election held under a system approved by Alaska voters that ends party primaries and institutes ranked-choice voting in general elections.

While the division is “sympathetic to the public expectation” that under the new system four candidates would advance, “it lacks the discretion to relax an unambiguous statutory deadline to effectuate this goal,” attorneys for the Department of Law, representing the division, said in court filings.

Morse in his written order said the timeline under which a substitution could occur in this situation “could hardly be briefer.” But, he wrote, “that is the period set by statute and the one the Division must apply.”

Sweeney’s campaign did not sue over the issue. But Sweeney has said that she believed she should be moved into fourth place and that voters should have four candidates to choose from.

In a statement, she criticized Begich, whose campaign agreed with the division’s interpretation and intervened in the case. She said Begich sought legal action “to block the advancement of my candidacy to limit the choices for Alaskans.” She said he is “threatened” by her candidacy.

Begich campaign manager Truman Reed labeled as “ridiculous” the assertion that Begich is trying to limit choices. Reed in an email said there were 48 candidates in the special primary, “seemingly enough. Three choices remain. Our interest is solely protecting the public’s confidence in the electoral system. From our perspective, the law is clear.”

The winner of the special election will serve the remainder of Young’s term. An August regular primary and November general election will determine who will serve a new, two-year term, starting in January.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of plaintiffs identified as registered voters Sunny Guerin, Vera Lincoln and Elizabeth Asisaun Toovak.

Fenumiai has said that a final court decision is needed by Tuesday to print ballots in time to meet deadlines and to keep the special election on schedule.

The Department of Law, in a statement Friday, said the division appreciated the speedy ruling. “If the Plaintiffs appeal, we will be ready to very quickly defend the ruling before the Alaska Supreme Court so that ballots can be printed on schedule,” the statement says.

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of April 15

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

Rep. Sara Hannan (right) offers an overview of this year’s legislative session to date as Rep. Andi Story and Sen. Jesse Kiehl listen during a town hall by Juneau’s delegation on Thursday evening at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Multitude of education issues, budget, PFD among top areas of focus at legislative town hall

Juneau’s three Democratic lawmakers reassert support of more school funding, ensuring LGBTQ+ rights.

Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, mayor of the Inupiaq village of Nuiqsut, at the area where a road to the Willow project will be built in the North Slope of Alaska, March 23, 2023. The Interior Department said it will not permit construction of a 211-mile road through the park, which a mining company wanted for access to copper deposits. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)
Biden shields millions of acres of Alaskan wilderness from drilling and mining

The Biden administration expanded federal protections across millions of acres of Alaskan… Continue reading

Allison Gornik plays the lead role of Alice during a rehearsal Saturday of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “Alice in Wonderland,” which will be staged at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé for three days starting Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
An ‘Alice in Wonderland’ that requires quick thinking on and off your feet

Ballet that Juneau Dance Theatre calls its most elaborate production ever opens Friday at JDHS.

Caribou cross through Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in their 2012 spring migration. A 211-mile industrial road that the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority wants to build would pass through Gates of the Arctic and other areas used by the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, one of the largest in North America. Supporters, including many Alaska political leaders, say the road would provide important economic benefits. Opponents say it would have unacceptable effects on the caribou. (Photo by Zak Richter/National Park Service)
Alaska’s U.S. senators say pending decisions on Ambler road and NPR-A are illegal

Expected decisions by Biden administration oppose mining road, support more North Slope protections.

Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, speaks on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 13. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House members propose constitutional amendment to allow public money for private schools

After a court ruling that overturned a key part of Alaska’s education… Continue reading

Danielle Brubaker shops for homeschool materials at the IDEA Homeschool Curriculum Fair in Anchorage on Thursday. A court ruling struck down the part of Alaska law that allows correspondence school families to receive money for such purchases. (Claire Stremple/Alaska Beacon)
Lawmakers to wait on Alaska Supreme Court as families reel in wake of correspondence ruling

Cash allotments are ‘make or break’ for some families, others plan to limit spending.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, April 17, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Newly elected tribal leaders are sworn in during the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s 89th annual Tribal Assembly on Thursday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Photo courtesy of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)
New council leaders, citizen of year, emerging leader elected at 89th Tribal Assembly

Tlingit and Haida President Chalyee Éesh Richard Peterson elected unopposed to sixth two-year term.

Most Read