Politics

Judge hears case challenging West Anchorage House candidate’s win

elections, anchorage, candidates

An Anchorage Democrat facing a legal challenge to her state House win said she had been a resident of Alaska for just over three years when she filed to run for office, testifying Thursday that her social media posts weren’t always contemporaneous and that a fishing license application for this year tracing her residency to May 2019 was more precise than prior applications.

A lawsuit contesting Jennifer “Jennie” Armstrong’s win in last month’s election alleges she is not qualified to be certified as a member of the Legislature because she had not been a resident for at least three years immediately preceding her filing for office. The candidate filing deadline was June 1.

But Armstrong said in an affidavit as well as in court Thursday that May 20, 2019, is when she moved to Alaska. She said that is the date she and her now-husband discussed and decided she would move in with him in Anchorage.

The case was brought by Republican Liz Vazquez, who lost the race to Armstrong, plus four others who filed a prior challenge to Armstrong’s eligibility that was dismissed by a judge on procedural grounds. The lawsuit points to a social media post it said was made by Armstrong, fishing license applications and when Armstrong registered to vote.

Armstrong “did not demonstrate the intent to remain in Alaska until at least June 7, 2019, but possibly later than June 23, 2019, and as late as August 26, 2019,” the lawsuit states.

Armstrong in her affidavit said she gave a prior Louisiana address on non-resident fishing license forms in June 2019 “because I believed that I had to list an out-of-state address to obtain a non-resident fishing license.” She said in resident fishing license applications in 2020 and 2021, she “erred on the side of caution and rounded down to only count full months” in reporting how long she had been a resident.

Those applications indicated her residency dated to June 2019, according to the lawsuit.

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Scott Kendall, an attorney for Armstrong, during questioning Thursday noted her 2022 fishing application indicated her residency dated to May 2019. He asked her about the difference.

Armstrong said she had not gone through the process of pinpointing when she moved to Alaska before May of this year. In her affidavit, she said she had not considered running for office until May 2022 and it was then she had to determine the “exact day” she moved to Alaska.

“So by the time you filled out this license, you had gone through the exercise of pinpointing the date for the purpose of your declaration of candidacy?” Kendall asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“And so that’s the reason it’s a bit more accurate?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she responded.

Armstrong, asked by Kendall during his questioning if she lied about her residency date to qualify to run for office, said: “No.”

She said she sometimes drafted a post for Instagram but did not post it until later. She said there was no reason or push for her to register to vote in Alaska before she did so.

Superior Court Judge Herman Walker Jr. asked for written arguments from attorneys by Friday as he weighs the case.

Vazquez in her lawsuit seeks to be declared the winner of the race. The lawsuit was filed against state elections officials but Armstrong intervened in the case. She and her husband testified at Thursday’s hearing.

The new legislature convenes Jan. 17. The state House has yet to organize a majority. Party affiliation often isn’t the only factor in organizing the state House and Senate; personalities and policy leanings are also factors. The Senate has organized a bipartisan majority.

A separate lawsuit challenges the eligibility of Republican state Rep. David Eastman, who has ties to the far-right group Oath Keepers, to serve in the Legislature. A trial in that case, which will be decided by a judge, ended Wednesday.

[Judge to decide whether Alaska Oath Keeper is eligible to keep state House seat]

Becky Bohrer, Associated Press

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

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