Politics

In federal court, state defends decision to limit automatic sending of absentee ballot request forms to the elderly

A federal judge is expected to rule this week on a legal action that could require the state of Alaska to send absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters before the Nov. 3 general election.

U.S. District Court Judge Joshua Kindred on Tuesday heard oral arguments on a preliminary injunction requested by the Disability Law Center of Alaska, Native Peoples Action Community Fund, Alaska Public Interest Research Group and two individuals.

If approved, the injunction would require the state to send absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters.

The state has sent those forms to voters at least 65 years old, but attorney Scott Kendall argued that limitation is unconstitutional because it represents unequal treatment.

“It’s really just leveling the playing field,” Kendall said of the proposed injunction.

Chief Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh said the state limited paper mailings because of concerns about processing ability and because public health advice indicates that older Alaskans are more threatened by the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition, all Alaska voters can apply for an absentee ballot online, and the state is including an absentee ballot request form in its voter pamphlet, which will be sent to every household in the state ahead of the general election.

Kendall said an online form and one form per household — without accompanying materials — isn’t equitable treatment. Given the approaching election, “I would expect (the judge) would rule in the next few days,” he said.

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