Alaska judges appear to be heading for retention in early results

Alaska judges on the ballot appeared to be heading for retention as the first election results began to trickle in Tuesday night.

At least one judge, Alaska Supreme Court Justice Susan Carney, had faced an active campaign to unseat her. Carney was ahead late Tuesday with about 58% of voters supporting her retention.

With the number of ballots counted as of 11:10 p.m. representing about 22% of registered voters, election officials have said an increase in advance voting will likely delay final results.

The other 21 judges on the ballot were all headed toward retention in the initial vote returns, though some by narrower margins than others.

Judges in Alaska are appointed but stand for retention in elections. Historically, voters have almost always allowed judges to keep their jobs. Grassroots campaigns to unseat judges have been rare, and only one has succeeded in recent decades: In 2018, voters ousted Anchorage Superior Court Judge Michael Corey over his role in approving a controversial plea agreement.

Religious conservatives organized against Carney because of her legal opinions in cases involving funding for abortion, the Permanent Fund dividend and the due process rights of people convicted of sex offenses. The group described Carney as an “activist judge.”

More broadly, judges are more often facing challenges. Carney wasn’t the only judge defending her position this fall.

Other judges, including Alaska Court of Appeals Judge Tracey Wollenberg and Kenai Superior Court Judge Jennifer Wells ran low-key, low-dollar campaigns to defend themselves against attacks, largely by conservative groups. In early results available as of 11:10 p.m. Tuesday, about 60% of voters supported Wollenberg’s retention, and about 57% of voters supported keeping Wells on the bench.

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.