US House candidate Galvin sues state to stop Alaska ballot rewrite

Alyse Galvin, the Democratic-nominated independent candidate for U.S. House, is suing the Alaska Division of Elections to force the state to reprint ballots that deleted candidates' political registrations. The change also sparked outcry from Democrats and Libertarians and if it remains, means Alaska voters will see only the candidates' nominating party, or that they were nominated by petition, on their ballots.

The suit claims the new ballot violates state law and harms Galvin, who has heavily advertised herself as an independent candidate. The new ballot design identifies Galvin solely as the Democratic nominee.

“Galvin’s personal voter registration affiliation as non-partisan, and formerly as undeclared, has been an important part of her identity, her campaign platform, and her relationship with her supporters,” her attorneys said in the lawsuit.

Galvin is challenging longtime incumbent Republican Rep. Don Young. In her 2018 run for Congress, ballots listed her with a “U,” signifying her undeclared voter registration.

Galvin isn’t the only candidate affected by the new design. U.S. Senate Candidate Al Gross, who is challenging Republican incumbent Sen. Dan Sullivan, also would be labeled “Democratic Nominee,” as would three independents in statehouse races.

Gross, a Democratic-nominated independent, is not participating in the lawsuit, his campaign said.

The lawsuit asks the state court to stop the Division of Elections from printing and mailing the new ballots and asks for an order requiring the state to use the design from 2018.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jennifer Henderson heard arguments for and against such an order for nearly an hour Wednesday. After initially saying she would rule by the end of the day, she told attorneys to expect a decision Thursday.

Margaret Paton-Walsh, representing the state, said elections officials have already printed about 800,000 ballots with the new design, and about 11,500 are scheduled to be mailed to overseas voters starting Friday.

“Reprinting the ballots is going to be a gigantic problem. It’s not just a matter of pressing print on your computer and having it spit out pages,” Paton-Walsh said about the consequences of a potential halt.

She said Henderson could instead order the Division of Elections to make additional information available to voters beyond the ballot, but said such an order could be “perilously close to campaigning” for elections officials.

Representing Galvin is Kevin Feldis of Perkins Coie, a legal firm that also represents national Democrats.

“I would suggest the ballot as it remains now is actually misleading because it makes it appear that Galvin is not only designated, nominated by the Democratic Party, it makes it appear that is her party affiliation now because it is absent from the ballot,” he said.

That matters because voters care about party affiliation when they go to the ballot box, he said.

State law specifically requires party affiliation to be printed on ballots, he argued, but Paton-Walsh responded that the law was written before a 2018 Alaska Supreme Court decision that allowed independents to run for the Democratic nomination.

Traditionally, she said, the phrase “party affiliation” has been interpreted to mean the nominating party. Feldis argued that may have been true before 2018, but in that year’s election and again in this year’s primary, the state printed each candidate’s voter registration.

Though the public first saw the new ballot design this week, Paton-Walsh said the state had finalized it in June and sent it to a printer in September, once the results of the August primary election were confirmed.

“Ballot design isn’t typically something that the Division of Elections gives people notice about,” she said.

The new design is at least partly intended to be narrower and better able to fit into new voting machines being used for the first time this year, she said.

“Part of the idea was to clean the ballot up,” she said.

Libertarian state House candidate Scott Kohlhaas was among the observers of Wednesday’s telephonic hearing. He said he’s upset about the ballot change because he’ll be listed only as “petition candidate” instead of as a Libertarian in his race for House District 16 in Anchorage.

“This change is illogical. They’re taking away my party label, my Libertarian party label, and they’re forcing a party label on the independents,” he said.

He hasn’t joined Galvin’s lawsuit, but he’d like to.

“I wish I were a co-plaintiff,” he said.

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