Federal judge sides with state in dispute over mailing absentee ballot applications only to older Alaskans

JUNEAU — A federal judge has denied a request seeking to have Alaska election officials send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters in the state ahead of the November general election.

The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Joshua Kindred, released late Thursday, comes in a case that challenged the state’s decision to mail, unprompted, absentee ballot applications to registered voters who are 65 and older ahead of the August primary amid coronavirus concerns.

The Disability Law Center of Alaska, Native Peoples Action Community Fund, Alaska Public Interest Research Group and two individuals alleged the state’s action was discriminatory. They filed a notice of appeal Friday.

Kindred said he was not convinced that any Alaskans’ rights had been diminished and called it “disingenuous” to suggest that state election officials “selected people age 65 and older arbitrarily, or that all other age groups are equally vulnerable.”

He acknowledged concerns for those with underlying medical conditions but said election officials “are not in a position where they can readily, easily, or confidently identify Alaskans who might qualify under that criteria.”

Jason Harrow, executive director and chief counsel with Equal Citizens, an outside group involved in voting issues that helped craft the lawsuit, said by email that the groups are evaluating their options.

“My comment is that our goal continues to be to hold the Lieutenant Governor to his word to make voting easier for all Alaskans, not just some,” he said Friday.


Charlotte Rand, an assistant attorney general with the state Department of Law, said Kindred’s decision “recognizes that elections have a lot of moving pieces, and the agency best suited to make decisions on how best to ensure everyone can exercise their right to vote is the Division of Elections.”

The Division of Elections earlier this year announced a new online system intended to make it easier to apply for absentee ballots. Voters in Alaska do not need a reason to request a ballot by mail.

[Alaskans can now apply online to vote by mail]

“Every Alaskan can exercise their right to vote in a safe and responsible manner,” Rand said in an email, in which she also noted early voting and in-person voting options on Election Day.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person’s risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increases as they get older. Gail Fenumiai, director of the Division of Elections, said the application sent to older voters worked for the primary and general elections if the voter chose that option on their application.

Becky Bohrer, Associated Press

Becky Bohrer is a reporter for the Associated Press based in Juneau.