Candidate for Alaska's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives Tara Sweeney, a Republican, was in Juneau on Monday, May 16, 2022, and sat down with the Empire for an interview. Sweeney said the three main pillars of her campaign are the economy, jobs and healthy communities. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

Lawsuit says Sweeney should advance in House race

The lawsuit says the Division of Elections misinterpreted state law.

JUNEAU — A lawsuit filed Thursday challenges a state election agency’s decision that said the fifth-place finisher in a special primary for Alaska’s U.S. House seat could not replace a candidate who abruptly dropped out.

The lawsuit says the Division of Elections misinterpreted state law. It says the fifth-place finisher, Republican Tara Sweeney, should be put on the August special election ballot in place of independent Al Gross, who withdrew.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of registered voters Sunny Guerin of Anchorage, Vera Lincoln of Fairbanks and Elizabeth Asisaun Toovak of Utqiagvik. A court hearing was set for Thursday afternoon.

Gross placed third in the June 11 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. But late Monday, he suddenly announced plans to end his campaign.

Gail Fenumiai, the division’s director, in a letter Tuesday said that because Gross withdrew less than 64 days before the election, state law does not permit the division to put the fifth-place candidate on the special election ballot in his place.

She said Gross withdrew Tuesday and his name would be removed from the special election ballot.

The lawsuit says the timeline cited by Fenumiai does not apply to special elections.

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

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

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