Mallott rejects Democrats’ primary change

JUNEAU — Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott on Wednesday declined a request by Alaska Democrats to allow candidates not affiliated with a political party to run in the Democratic primary.

State law requires a candidate seeking a party’s nomination to be a registered voter of that party. State party chair Casey Steinau has said that Democrats believe the law is unconstitutional and unenforceable based on research done by attorneys for the party.

But Mallott, in a letter to Steinau, said it’s up to a court to decide whether a law is ultimately constitutional. The state intends to follow the law as it stands, said Mallott, who oversees elections in the state and said he consulted with Alaska’s Department of Law.

Kay Brown, the state Democratic Party’s executive director, said the party is disappointed with the decision and believe it infringes on the party’s First Amendment right to freedom of association.

Party leaders are expected in the coming days to discuss their options. The options that Brown is aware of are dropping the matter or pursuing legal action.

In January, state party leaders approved allowing unaffiliated candidates to run in their party primary and asked the state to implement the change for this year’s elections.

Brown said the party sees this as a way to be inclusive and to welcome independents who share party values to take part in the Democratic primary.

Unaffiliated candidates — those identified as undeclared or nonpartisan — comprise the state’s largest voting bloc. Alaska’s Republican party has nearly twice the number of registered voters as Democrats, according to Division of Elections statistics.

In running for governor in 2014, Bill Walker changed his party affiliation from Republican to undeclared in joining forces with Mallott, a Democrat. Mallott gave up his gubernatorial bid to be Walker’s running mate. The ticket was supported by the Democratic Party.

There is one unaffiliated state lawmaker — Rep. Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan. He caucuses with House Democrats.

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