Alaska judge blocks ballot printing after candidate raises “clear” legal questions about design

U.S. House candidate Alyse Galvin, an independent who’s secured the Alaska Democratic Party’s nomination, is challenging a new ballot design by state elections officials. (Alyse Galvin campaign)

A judge issued an order Thursday temporarily blocking Alaska elections officials from printing more ballots after a U.S. Congressional candidate’s lawsuit raised “clear and very significant questions” about whether a new ballot design is illegal.

Later in the day, state elections officials filed an emergency motion asking the Alaska Supreme Court to intervene. The 95-page motion says the state faces a Friday deadline under federal law to mail ballots to military and overseas voters, although that law, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, includes an exemption for lawsuit-related delays.

Alyse Galvin, an independent candidate who won the nomination of the Alaska Democratic Party in its primary last month, filed her lawsuit Tuesday.

It challenges a new ballot design from state elections officials — who work for a Republican lieutenant governor, Kevin Meyer — that only references Galvin’s Democratic Party nomination and not her independent voter registration. Galvin is challenging incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young.

The change also affects other independents who secured the support of the Democratic Party in the August primary election, like U.S. Senate candidate Al Gross, although Gross has not joined the lawsuit.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jennifer Henderson issued her five-page temporary restraining order Thursday morning. It says Galvin, after a hearing Wednesday, showed that she’ll suffer “immediate and irreparable injury” if the courts don’t block printing of ballots that exclude candidates’ voter registration information.

Henderson said Galvin’s campaign had raised significant questions about whether elections officials have broken the plain language of a state law that requires ballots to list candidates’ “party affiliation” after their name.

Henderson did not explain why she ordered elections officials to stop printing ballots when, at Wednesday’s hearing, a state attorney reportedly said that more than 800,000 ballots had already been printed. But Henderson is requiring Galvin to commit $10,000 to cover any costs or damages to the state if she ultimately loses her lawsuit.

Henderson has scheduled another hearing for Friday morning. She also asked the two sides to file new briefs that address Galvin’s request for the restraining order, and that include ideas that could spare the state from having to reprint ballots, by 4 p.m. Thursday.

Galvin, in a prepared statement, said she was pleased with the ruling.

”Alaskans deserve to have all legally required information as they cast their vote. We look forward to presenting our arguments to preserve Alaskans’ voting rights and keep politics out of the Constitutional voting process,” the statement quoted Galvin as saying. “It is very disappointing that the state altered the ballot to remove information that is important to Alaska voters. The state created a last-minute crisis that didn’t need to happen.”

In an email, Alaska Department of Law spokeswoman Maria Bahr said Henderson’s ruling makes it more difficult for the state Division of Elections “to meet its obligations under federal law and get timely, accurate and clear information out to Alaskan voters.”

“The division’s ballot design is consistent with its historical practice, was intended to make the ballot clear, and fully comports with Alaska Supreme Court guidance and precedent on this issue,” Bahr wrote. “Regardless how any one candidate may prefer to appear, the ballot is not a forum for a candidate to send a campaign message. The division’s goal is and was to remain neutral and present information in a way that is both accurate, clear, and simple.”