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After criticism from Democrats, Alaska Division of Elections says ballot design change is not politically motivated

The Alaska Division of Elections is defending its decision to change the design of Alaska’s election ballots amid criticism from Alaska Democrats who say the move discriminates against independents endorsed by their party.

The change was made on the division’s normal timeline and “without any thought to politics or campaigning, as should always be the case," said Gail Fenumiai, director of the division, in a written statement.

The new ballots show only candidate names and whether the candidate reached the ballot by a petition or a party’s nomination. The candidate’s political registration has been erased, a change from both the primary and the 2018 general election.

Al Gross, an independent running for U.S. Senate, and Alyse Galvin, an independent running for U.S. House, won the Democratic nominations for those races. Both have campaigned on their independence, but the new design leaves them listed only as “Democratic Nominee.”

Two years ago, general election ballots listed Galvin as the “Alaska Democratic Party Nominee” with a "U" next to her name, signifying her undeclared voter registration. In 2016, before an extensive legal battle, independents were labeled “Non Affiliated”.

The state intends to send the new-look absentee ballots to voters overseas starting Friday.

On Monday, Fenumiai said it was her decision to make the change.

She made the change because “the division wanted to avoid voter confusion and felt that the most important and necessary information for the general election ballot is the party affiliation for purposes of the election, which means how the candidate was nominated for the ballot — whether it was through the primary system (Republican, Democrat or Alaskan Independence Party) or through a nominating petition.”

State law says that a candidate’s “party affiliation, if any, shall be designated after the name of the candidate."

Fenumiai said by email that before 2018, the division “historically construed a candidate’s ‘party affiliation’ for purposes of the ballot design as the way in which a candidate ascended to the ballot —specifically, did the candidate affiliate with a political party by running in its primary, or decline to affiliate with any party by running as a nominating petition candidate.”

In 2018, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in favor of a lawsuit allowing independents into the Democratic primary. Its ruling said in part, “On the general election ballot, the State could simply print the nominating party’s name next to the candidate’s name.”

The division’s written statement cites that sentence.

“This is what the division has decided to do this year in order to make it clear to the public how the candidate got on the general election ballot and what party nominated them,” it says.

It goes on to explain that the state’s voter pamphlet will have information about candidates’ registered affiliation (or non-affiliation), and that information is also available online.

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