A roll of I voted stickers await voters on Saturday at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Juneau. On Saturday, which was also special primary election day, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed a ruling that would have delayed certification of the special election,.(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

A roll of I voted stickers await voters on Saturday at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Juneau. On Saturday, which was also special primary election day, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed a ruling that would have delayed certification of the special election,.(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

State supreme court reverses ruling that roiled House election

Special primary moved forward as planned Saturday following a tense legal fight.

By Becky Boher

Associated Press

The special primary for Alaska’s only U.S. House seat moved forward as planned Saturday following a tense legal fight over ballot access issues that had cast a shadow over the election.

The legal drama was the latest twist in what has already been an extraordinary election, packed with 48 candidates running for the seat left vacant by the death in March of U.S. Rep. Don Young. Young, a Republican, held the seat for 49 years.

The Alaska Supreme Court on Saturday reversed and vacated a lower court order that barred state elections officials from certifying the results of the special primary until visually impaired voters were given a “full and fair” opportunity to participate.

Attorneys for the state had interpreted Friday’s order from Superior Court Judge Una Gandbhir as preventing elections officials from concluding voting as scheduled on Saturday. They asked the supreme court to reverse the order.

The high court said an explanation of its reasoning would follow at a later time.

Gandbhir on Friday ruled that Alaska elections officials could not certify the results of the by-mail special primary until visually impaired voters “are provided a full and fair opportunity to participate” in the election. She did not specify what that would entail.

The ruling came in a case filed earlier this week by Robert Corbisier, executive director of the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights. Corbisier sued state elections officials on behalf of a person identified as B.L., a registered voter in Anchorage with a visual impairment.

Attorneys for Corbisier said the election lacks options that would allow people with visual impairments to cast ballots “without invasive and unlawful assistance from a sighted person.” Attorneys for the state said that adequate methods for secret voting were available.

An attorney for Corbisier did not respond to a request for comment.

This is the first election under a system approved by voters in 2020 that ends party primaries and uses ranked choice voting in general elections.

Prominent candidates include former Gov. Sarah Palin, Nick Begich, Tara Sweeney and Josh Revak, all Republicans; independent Al Gross; and Democrats Christopher Constant and Mary Peltola. A self-described “independent, progressive, democratic socialist” whose legal name is Santa Claus has gotten attention but has not been raising money.

Each voter picks one candidate in the special primary, which will whittle the list from 48 to four. The four candidates who win the most votes advance to a special election in which ranked choice voting will be used. The winner of the special election will serve the rest of Young’s term, which ends in January.

The special election is set to coincide with the Aug. 16 regular primary. The regular primary and November general election will decide who serves a two-year term beginning in January.

The special primary is mainly being conducted by mail, which elections officials said they opted for given the tight timeline to hold an election after Young’s death.

As of Friday afternoon, around 130,000 ballots had been returned to the Division of Elections. Ballots began going out in late April.

For some voters, trying to sort through 48 candidates was daunting. Candidates tried to distinguish themselves from their opponents and break through with their messages.

Peltola, a former state lawmaker from Bethel who has been involved in fisheries issues, said she entered the race with low name recognition but believed that had changed and that she has momentum behind her candidacy.

She and Constant, an Anchorage Assembly member, have run perhaps the most visible campaigns among the six Democrats in the race, which also includes 22 independents and 16 Republicans.

Most of those running have reported no fundraising to the Federal Election Commission. Of those who have, Palin reported the biggest haul between April 1 and May 22, more than $630,000. Gross, an orthopedic surgeon who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2020, reported receiving about $545,000 between March 23 and May 22.

Begich, who began running for the House seat last fall, had the most available cash as of May 22, about $715,000. He has loaned his campaign $650,000 so far.

Independent Jeff Lowenfels, a gardening expert with a legal background, reported bringing in about $150,000 from April 1 to May 22, which includes $100,000 he loaned his campaign.

Palin was endorsed by some national political figures, including former President Donald Trump, and took time to campaign in Georgia last month for David Perdue, who lost the Republican primary for governor in that state to incumbent Brian Kemp.

Trump participated in a “telerally” for Palin, saying she would “fight harder than anybody I can think of,” particularly on energy issues.

Some Alaskans questioned Palin’s commitment. She resigned partway through her term as governor in 2009, months after her unsuccessful run for U.S. vice president. In a radio ad, she seeks to assure voters: “I’m in this for the long haul. … I’m going to see this thing through and earn your support.”

During the campaign, opponents seized on that point. Gross said Palin “quit on Alaska.” Begich and Sweeney made points of saying they are not quitters.

Begich, a Republican from a family of prominent Democrats, earned endorsements from conservatives in the state along with the Alaska Republican Party. Sweeney was assistant secretary of Indian Affairs in the U.S. Interior Department under Trump and has been endorsed by a group representing leaders of the state’s influential Alaska Native regional corporations.

Gross, in an email to supporters, said Palin and Begich are candidates who will be hard to beat but said he is “ready and able to take on this fight.”

He stood in the morning drizzle in Juneau on Saturday, waving signs with supporters and said he felt good about his campaign.

More in News

The Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Encore docks in Juneau in October, 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the Week of May 28

Here’s what to expect this week.

File Photo
Police calls for Saturday, May 27

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

Dozens of Juneau teachers, students and residents gather at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol on Jan. 23 in advocacy for an increase in the state’s flat funding via the base student allocation, which hasn’t increased sizeably since 2017 and has failed to keep pace with inflation during the past decade. A one-time funding increase was approved during this year’s legislative session. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
What’s next for the most debated bills pending in the Legislature?

Education funding increase, “parental rights” and other proposals will resurface next year.

Emergency lights flash on top of a police car. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Police investigate assault in Lemon Creek area

“JPD does not believe there is any danger to the public at large.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Feb. 24, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. DeSantis has filed a declaration of candidacy for president, entering the 2024 race as Donald Trump’s top GOP rival (AP Photo / John Raoux)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis launches 2024 GOP presidential campaign to challenge Trump

Decision revealed in FEC filing before an online conversation with Twitter CEO Elon Musk.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Wednesday, May 23, 2023

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

A channel flows through the mud flats along the Seward Highway and Turnagain Arm in Alaska on Oct. 25, 2014. Authorities said, a 20-year-old man from Illinois who was walking Sunday evening, May 21, 2023, on tidal mud flats with friends in an Alaska estuary, got stuck up to his waist in the quicksand-like silt and drowned as the tide came in before frantic rescuers could extract him.  (Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News)
Illinois man gets stuck waist-deep in Alaska mud flats, drowns as tide comes in

“…It’s Mother Nature, and she has no mercy for humanity.”

Most Read