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A late change to the 2020 General Election ballot sparks outcry from Alaska Democrats

A quiet change to Alaska’s 2020 general election ballot has drawn the ire of the Alaska Democratic Party, which says the move is biased, lacks transparency and was disclosed days before ballots are mailed to overseas voters.

Candidates no longer have their party registrations listed on the ballot. Instead, they’re only listed as the nominee of a particular party or as having entered a race through the petition process.

The change primarily affects Al Gross, running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, and Alyse Galvin, running for U.S. House against longtime Republican incumbent Don Young. Both have made being independent of a major party a central part of their campaigns.

The change showed up on sample ballots posted on the Alaska Division of Elections website.

Looking at the ballot alone, there’s no way to tell that they’re independents or non-partisan. They, along with registered Democrats who won party primaries, are listed only as “Democratic Party Nominee.”

Nonpartisan Alaska Senate candidates Jim Cooper and Tom Lamb, both running in the Mat-Su, and House candidates Calvin Schrage and Suzanne LaFrance in Anchorage also are affected.

Sample ballot posted to the Alaska Division of Elections website.

The change was made unilaterally on Monday by Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai, she said Monday. Fenumiai would not explain the change to the ballot Monday afternoon but said she would provide a written explanation Tuesday.

“I am dismayed and disgusted at the lack of transparency regarding election administration from the Division of the Elections,” said Lindsay Kavanaugh, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party.

In the August 2020 primary, such candidates did have a "N" next to their name, for “nonpartisan.”

“The lieutenant governor should tell Alaskans why he arbitrarily changed the ballot from its 2018 format,” said Gross' campaign spokeswoman, Julia Savel. Savel said the campaign prefers the 2018 format, but does not intend to challenge the change. It’s up to state government to decide, she said.

Matt Shuckerow, campaign director for U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, said Gross had options for how he wanted to appear on the November ballot in his challenge for Sullivan’s seat.

“Instead, he actively sought and secured the backing of the Alaska Democratic Party,” Shuckerow said. “I’m not sure why he doesn’t want it now.”

The Sullivan campaign has challenged Gross' independent status, suggesting he’s a Democrat who found political expediency in running as an independent.

Rep. Don Young’s campaign manager, Truman Reed, did not respond to a request for comment.

Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer’s Chief of Staff, Josh Applebee, said Fenumiai made the change, not Meyer.

Bridget Galvin, Alyse Galvin’s spokeswoman, said the campaign was still figuring out what the change means, and did not have a comment Monday.

Fenumiai and Applebee declined to give a reason for the change on Monday. Applebee said a statement would come out Tuesday morning. When asked why he couldn’t comment on the change immediately, he said he needed to talk with everyone involved to accurately answer questions.

“I just haven’t had time to put anything together on it. I’ve been busy dealing with other things that are happening,” Fenumiai said when asked why she couldn’t provide an answer.

In 2016, the Alaska Democratic Party sued to overturn a state law that blocked it from allowing independents to run in its primary. That case wasn’t decided until 2018, when the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in favor of the party.

That fall, the state marked candidates both with their registered party and whose nominee they were. One example was at the top of the ballot: Alyse Galvin, running as an independent for US House, had a "U" next to her name, indicating that she was an undeclared candidate, but also was labeled the “Alaska Democratic Party Nominee.”

That was the first major change to the design of Alaska’s general election ballot since 2004, when the fill-in-the-blank oval was moved next to the candidate’s name instead of their party affiliation.

“Now, they have made a substantive change to Alaskans' general ballot and failed to notify stakeholders, most notably the voters. That is unconscionable," Kavanaugh said. "I am increasingly concerned about the ability of the Lt Governor to make informed, unbiased, decisions about the election, and of the integrity of those running the DOE. Alaska voters, especially the majority of those voters who are undeclared and non-partisan, need to call bullshit.”

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