JUNEAU — The movement to remove Gov. Mike Dunleavy from office and the group defending him are now locked in an argument over the timing of the prospective recall election, with implications both for ongoing legal arguments and the fate of the election itself.
The Alaska Supreme Court has yet to render a verdict on the legality of the recall campaign, but if it accepts the case on an “emergency” basis, that could put the recall on pace for a summer special election. The court is also considering whether to allow signature-gathering before its verdict.
“If he’s got a special election on recall, he’s in real trouble,” said political consultant Marc Hellenthal of Dunleavy. Hellenthal runs an Anchorage firm that conducts opinion polls and advises candidates, typically Republicans.
In court documents last week, Recall Dunleavy urged justices to consider the case on that emergency basis and hear arguments later this month.
Stand Tall With Mike — the group supporting the governor — and the Alaska Division of Elections are arguing for a slower schedule of legal arguments, one that would likely result in the recall vote taking place in November, at the same time as the state’s general election.
Opponents of the recall, including Stand Tall With Mike, assert that the pro-recall movement is deliberately trying to avoid placing the recall on the general election ballot in order to boost its odds of success with a low-turnout election.
Recall Dunleavy campaign manager Claire Pywell denied that.
“How could anyone say what a special election really looks like?” she said.
Alaska has never had a statewide special recall election, so there’s no way to know what turnout will be, she said.
She said her group’s interest in an earlier election date is to ensure that Alaskans’ constitutional right to a recall is not deferred or denied.
“We’re firmly of the mindset that the sooner people can take action on this, the better,” she said.
“The Department of Law represents the Division of Elections and has no opinion on the timing of an election,” wrote assistant attorney general Maria Bahr in a written statement.
“Its mission is to oversee an orderly election and that includes its interest in a recall process that minimizes voter confusion. The Division of Elections awaits clarification and guidance from the Alaska Supreme Court on the briefing schedule,” she said.
Under state law and the Alaska Constitution, Recall Dunleavy must gather the signatures of at least 71,252 registered voters in order to force a vote on Dunleavy’s removal. Signature-gathering was paused by a superior court judge who otherwise ruled in favor of the recall.
From the moment Recall Dunleavy submits signature booklets to the Alaska Division of Elections, the division has 30 days to verify signatures. If enough signatures are verified, a recall vote must take place between 60 and 90 days afterward.
If the state’s Nov. 3 general election or the Aug. 18 primary election fall within that window, the recall appears on the regularly scheduled ballot. If neither election does, the recall would take place in a special election.
To have an election before the state primary, Recall Dunleavy would need to turn in its signatures before April 20. The group also needs time to gather signatures — last year, it needed five weeks to collect 46,405. With that as a guideline (and unless the court allows signature-gathering earlier), Recall Dunleavy would need a verdict no later than March 16.
“If you have a special election ... people vote because there’s motivated to vote,” Hellenthal said, adding that it’s “basic psychology" that hatred is a more powerful motivator that love.
Based on that, he believes a special election disadvantages the governor.
Fellow consultant Ivan Moore disagreed, saying he’s inclined to believe that the passion gap favors the anti-recall side. When people are uncertain, they tend to vote no, he said.
“I think it’s always going to favor Republicans because this is Alaska,” he said.
He also said that considering the timing of an election is premature, given that the Supreme Court has not yet ruled whether the recall is even legal.