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

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of Aug. 7

Here’s what to expect this week.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police ID man missing from cruise ship

Coast Guard suspends search efforts

(Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Saturday, Aug. 10, 2022

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

A northern oriole used dietary carotenoids to make its feathers bright orange. (Courtesy Photo / J. S. Willson)
On the Trails: The colorful world of birds

Colors are produced by cell structure, which can scatter light rays, making… Continue reading

(Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Saturday, Aug. 9, 2022

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

(Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022

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

Ice fog, a phrase in Russell Tabbert’s Dictionary of Alaskan English, is not uttered in many other places because to form it takes a sustained temperature of minus 35 F. (Courtesy Photo / Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Alaska lexicon sinks in over the years

When my little Ford pickup chugged into Alaska 36 years ago this… Continue reading

Mimi Israelah, center, cheers for Donald Trump inside the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage, Alaska, during a rally Saturday July 9, 2022. Two Anchorage police officers violated department policy during a traffic stop last month when Israelah, in town for a rally by former President Donald Trump showed a "white privilege card" instead of a driver's license and was not ticketed. (Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News)
Alaska officers violated policy in ‘white privilege’ stop

It’s unclear what policy was violated or what disciplinary actions the two officers faced.

(Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2022

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

Most Read