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Supreme Court allows state to provide write-in list

Erika Bolstad

After a day's worth of back-and-forth, the Alaska Supreme Court on Wednesday said voters can look at a list of certified write-in candidates when they go to the polls.

The Supreme Court's decision late Wednesday blocked a lower court ruling made earlier in the day from taking effect while the high court further considers an appeal.

The Alaska Democratic Party and the Alaska Republican Party joined forces this week in court seeking to keep the list out of voting places. They thought they'd won the case Wednesday morning when the lower court judge told the state Division of Elections to remove the list from voting places statewide.

But the Supreme Court decision allows voters at early voting sites to see the lists if they say they need help and want to be shown a list of write-in candidates. The decision could aid Sen. Lisa Murkowski's write-in U.S. Senate bid; her campaign had fought to keep the lists at polling places.

"This stay will ensure that Alaskans can continue to get the assistance they're entitled to under law," said campaign manager Kevin Sweeney in a statement.

The Supreme Court did say the lists must not disclose the party affiliation of the write-in candidates. And the ballots of those voters who ask for the list must be segregated from the ballots of other voters, pending any additional appeals.

A NEW PRACTICE

The original order issued Wednesday morning by state Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner not only kept the state from providing the list, but it also forbade poll workers from providing to voters the names of any write-in candidates.

The state later in the day asked the Alaska Supreme Court to review that decision. The Supreme Court has given the state Democratic and Republican parties until 3 p.m. today to file a response to the state's request for a Supreme Court review of Pfiffner's decision.

The Division of Elections has been providing early voters who ask for assistance a list of all write-in candidates, and in one case actually posted the list at an early-voting location in Homer. The division had argued that it drew up the list because it anticipated an unusual number of questions about Murkowski's write-in bid.

The Alaska Democratic Party sued the state, asking it to drop the list at polling places, and the Alaska Republican Party joined the suit.

Both political parties said the lists, which have been distributed to early voting places statewide and will go to polling places on Nov. 2, are a considerable change from the state's previous write-in practices. It directly violated a state regulation that forbids allowing any information about write-in candidates at the polling place or within 200 feet of its entrance, Pfiffner noted Wednesday.

SOME BALLOTS SEGREGATED

Pfiffner said the division's argument "rings hollow" in light of its past practices.

"If it were important 'assistance' for the division to provide voters with lists of write-in candidates, then the division has been asleep at the switch for the past 50 years. The division first developed the need for a write-in candidate list 12 days ago."

But the Supreme Court disagreed, and said the Division of Elections should be prepared to explain whether it's possible to continue segregating the ballots of those voters who ask for the lists, even through Election Day.

Pfiffner's original order had been considered a blow to Murkowski's write-in campaign, which had joined the state Division of Elections in fighting efforts to do away with the list.

The Alaska Federation of Natives, which backs Murkowski, also joined the state and the Murkowski campaign in fighting to keep the write-in list at the polls.

The Alaska Republican Party argued that the lists cheapen an established primary election process designed specifically to narrow the list of candidates. Murkowski faces Republican Joe Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams.

Murkowski, who launched her write-in bid after losing the Republican primary in August to Miller, had drawn criticism from his supporters for saying before the primary that she would honor the decision of GOP voters and stand with the party nominee.

Find Erika Bolstad online at adn.com/contact/ebolstad.

PDF: Supreme Court order
Alaska Politics Blog: Canvas effort for Murkowski under way
By ERIKA BOLSTAD
ebolstad@adn.com