Lawsuit filed to keep congressional candidate Tara Sweeney in special election

Tara Sweeney (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Three Alaska voters have filed a lawsuit against the Division of Elections to get Republican candidate Tara Sweeney on the special election ballot for U.S. House, but the first judge to hear it said he’s inclined to rule against them.

Sweeney finished fifth in the special primary. That would seem to put her out of the running, because only the top four candidates advance to the general ballot. But Monday the third place finisher, Al Gross, quit the race. 

The Division of Elections said it could remove Gross from the ballot but concluded Sweeney couldn’t advance because state law says a replacement can’t be added within 64 days of the general election.

The lawsuit challenges that decision. The plaintiffs are Sunny Guerin, Vera Lincoln and Elizabeth Toovak. 

Attorney Holly Wells, from Anchorage firm Birch Horton, said the 64-day limit is for a regular election and can’t be crammed into the compressed timeline of a special.  The lawsuit also argues that the voters are expecting to rank four candidates on the ballot and that having only three names to rank would deprive them of the right to vote for a duly nominated candidate.

Superior Court Judge William Morse in Anchorage held a hearing in the case late Thursday afternoon. He said his tentative conclusion favors the Division of Elections but he will issue a ruling Friday. He also said expects the state Supreme Court will hear the case quickly, maybe over the weekend.

An attorney representing the division said there’s nothing improper about observing the 64-day rule. The division has until June 28 to finalize the ballot.

The names that will definitely be on it are Sarah Palin, Nick Begich III and Mary Peltola.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.

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