Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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In 2020 Alaska voters approved, by a slim margin, a ballot initiative that made sweeping changes to Alaska’s system of elections. The changes included replacing the system of political party primary elections with a nonpartisan primary election and adopting ranked-choice voting for the general election. A coalition of politically active voters and a political party filed suit, arguing that these changes violated the Alaska Constitution. The superior court ruled otherwise. The Alaska Supreme Court considered the appeal on an expedited basis and affirmed the superior court’s judgment in a brief order. The Court concluded the challengers did not carry their burden to show that the Alaska Constitution prohibited the election system Alaska voters have chosen. The Court published its opinion to explain its reasoning. View "Kohlhaas, et al. v.Alaska, Division of Elections, et al." on Justia Law

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An Alaska citizen filed an application to recall a member of the Anchorage Assembly, alleging that the assembly member had committed misconduct in office by participating in an indoor gathering of more than 15 people in violation of an executive order. The municipal clerk rejected the application after concluding that the alleged conduct did not constitute misconduct in office. The superior court reversed the clerk’s denial of the application. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Jones v. Biggs" on Justia Law

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The Alaska lieutenant governor refused to certify an application for a ballot initiative, and the group backing the initiative filed suit. In a court-approved stipulation, the Division of Elections agreed to print the signature booklets and make them available to the initiative’s sponsors without waiting for the court to decide whether the initiative application should have been certified. A voter sued the State, asserting that it would violate the initiative process laid out in article XI, section 3 of the Alaska Constitution if the signature booklets were printed and made available before the initiative had been certified. In response the State and the initiative group entered into a new stipulation providing that the State would not make the signature booklets available until the court ordered it. The superior court granted the State summary judgment in the voter’s suit, concluding that he lacked standing and his case was moot. The voter appealed, arguing he had standing and that his case should have been heard because of two exceptions to the mootness doctrine: the public interest exception and the voluntary cessation exception. Without reaching the issue of standing, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s judgment on mootness grounds, concluding that the court did not abuse its discretion by declining to apply either exception to the doctrine. View "Young v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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After a narrow loss in the general election for Alaska House District 27, Lance Pruitt contested the result. The superior court dismissed Pruitt’s multi-count complaint for failure to state a valid claim. But in order to expedite the case’s eventual review, the court heard evidence on a single count: Pruitt’s claim that the Division of Elections committed malconduct that influenced the election by moving a polling place without notifying the public in all the ways required by law. After considering the evidence, the superior court ruled that Pruitt did not show either that the lack of notice amounted to malconduct or that it was sufficient to change the results of the election. Pruitt appealed only the count on which the court heard evidence. In order to resolve this election contest before the start of the legislative session, the Alaska Supreme Court issued a brief order stating that Pruitt had not met his burden to sustain an election contest. This opinion explained the Court’s reasoning. Although the count alleging inadequate notice should not have been dismissed for failure to state a claim, the Court held it did not succeed on the merits. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the superior court’s judgment. View "Pruitt v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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About two months before the 2020 general election, a village government, a nonpartisan political organization, and two individual Alaska voters sought to enjoin the State from enforcing a statute that required absentee ballots to be witnessed by an official or other adult. They argued that, under the unusual circumstances posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the witness requirement unconstitutionally burdened the right to vote. The superior court granted a preliminary injunction, concluding that the State’s interests in maintaining the witness requirement were outweighed by the burden that requirement would impose on the right to vote during times of community lockdowns and strict limits on person-to-person contact. The court also rejected the State’s laches defense, reasoning that the unpredictability of the pandemic’s course made it reasonable for the plaintiffs to wait as long as they did before filing suit. The State petitioned for review. After an expedited oral argument the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision, finding no abuse of discretion. This opinion explained the Court's reasoning. View "Alaska, Office of Lieutenant Governor, Division of Elections v. Arctic Village Council, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2012, the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) issued an advisory opinion stating that the contribution limits in Alaska’s campaign finance law were unconstitutional as applied to contributions to independent expenditure groups. In 2018, three individuals filed complaints with APOC alleging that independent expenditure groups had exceeded Alaska’s contribution limits. APOC declined to enforce the contribution limits based on its advisory opinion. The individuals appealed to the superior court, which reversed APOC’s dismissal of the complaints and ordered APOC to reconsider its advisory opinion in light of a recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision. APOC appealed, arguing that it should not have been required to enforce laws it viewed as unconstitutional and that its constitutional determination was correct. Because the Alaska Supreme Court found it was error to reverse APOC’s dismissal of the complaints, it reversed the superior court’s order. View "Alaska Public Offices Commission v. Patrick, et al." on Justia Law

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A recall committee submitted an application to the Alaska Division of Elections seeking to recall the governor, citing lack of fitness, incompetence, and neglect of duties as grounds. The director refused to certify the application, asserting that it was not legally or factually sufficient. The committee challenged the director’s decision in superior court. That court granted summary judgment for the committee, deciding that except for one allegation, which it struck, the allegations in the committee’s application were legally and factually sufficient. The committee was allowed to move on to the second phase of signature-gathering on its recall petition; if it was successful, the director would call a special election to allow the voters to decide whether the governor should be recalled. The State appealed, and the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision in a summary order with an opinion to follow. By this opinion, the Supreme Court explained why the committee’s recall application satisfied the legal requirements for presentation to the voters. View "Alaska Division of Elections v. Recall Dunleavy" on Justia Law

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Alyse Galvin was an Alaska Democratic Party nominee for office, but registered as a nonpartisan voter. She sued to stop the state Division of Elections from sending out already-printed ballots for the 2020 general election, arguing that the Division’s ballot design, by omitting her nonpartisan voter registration, violated both a statutory directive to designate a candidate’s party affiliation on the ballot and Galvin’s right to free political association under the Alaska Constitution. After the superior court issued a temporary restraining order, the Division petitioned for review. But the following day, the superior court denied Galvin’s request for a preliminary injunction; the Alaska Supreme Court granted her emergency cross-petition for review and affirmed the superior court’s decision in a summary order with this explanation to follow. The Court concluded the Division’s evidence supported the superior court’s factual finding that granting Galvin’s requested injunction would have jeopardized the prospects of a successful and timely election. The superior court did not abuse its discretion by denying Galvin’s requested preliminary injunction because granting the injunction could have imperiled the public interest in an orderly and timely election. View "Alaska Division of Elections v. Galvin" on Justia Law

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A national political organization engaged an Alaska media consultant to reserve over $1 million worth of television advertising time prior to the 2018 gubernatorial primary race. The national organization did not register with the Alaska Public Office Commission, and did not report the reservations to the agency. The Commission concluded that this conduct violated a statute requiring all entities to register before making any “expenditures,” including promises or agreements to transfer something of value, to influence an election. The superior court affirmed the Commission’s decision on appeal. The national organization appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, arguing that the Commission defined “expenditures” too broadly. The Supreme Court concluded the Commission reasonably interpreted the campaign finance statute to include agreements to purchase television advertising, even when these agreements were not legally binding. The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision affirming the Commission’s order. View "Republican Governors Association v. Alaska Public Offices Commission" on Justia Law

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Sponsors of an initiative that would revise taxation for a defined set of oil producers filed a superior court complaint seeking declaratory judgment that the lieutenant governor’s initiative ballot summary was not true and impartial. The superior court held that one ballot summary sentence included “partisan suasion” by weighing in on a disputed initiative provision’s meaning, and the court ordered that sentence deleted. The lieutenant governor appealed, arguing that the disputed sentence was fair and impartial, but requesting that, if the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision, the Supreme Court allow the lieutenant governor to insert a proposed replacement sentence. After expedited briefing and oral arguments, the Supreme Court issued a brief order affirming the court’s ruling and judgment but allowing, at the lieutenant governor’s discretion, the portion of the proposed replacement sentence to which the sponsors had no objection. The Supreme Court stated that “[a]n opinion explaining the reasoning for this order will follow at a later date.” This opinion set forth the reasons for the earlier order. View "Alaska Office of Lieutenant Governor, Division of Elections v. Vote Yes for Alaska's Fair Share" on Justia Law