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Alaska Legislature

Alaska Supreme Court hears challenge in Anchorage House race decided by 11 votes

Liz Snyder, left, and Lance Pruitt.

The Alaska Supreme Court should order a new election in a state House race lost by Republican Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, his attorney argues, saying state election officials did not properly act in changing a polling location.

The court did not immediately rule after hearing arguments Friday. A recount showed Pruitt lost to Democrat Liz Snyder by 11 votes. The new legislative session is set to begin Jan. 19.

Superior Court Judge Josie Garton recently found that election officials could have done more but acted in “good faith” in trying to notify voters of the change to an Anchorage polling site days before the Nov. 3 election.

Garton said Pruitt had not shown that any voter was kept from voting because of any lack of required notice.

Pruitt attorney Stacey Stone has argued that the Division of Elections should have acted sooner to confirm whether a planned polling location would be available for the November election and done more to provide notice when they learned it wasn’t.

On Friday, she called the late change to the polling site a “state-created emergency” prompted by actions she called negligent.

According to state filings in the case, the polling location was changed twice last year. It was changed from its typical location a day before the August primary when officials learned the original site would require COVID-19 screening questions for people to enter.

The owner of the new site declined to host it again for the general election, according to the filings. An election official learned this when she called him on Oct. 22 to confirm if the location - already hosting another precinct - would be available.

The division nailed down a backup location on Oct. 27, and voters were notified with signs at the prior locations and with website and voter hotline updates, a filing by Assistant Attorneys General Laura Fox, Thomas Flynn and Margaret Paton Walsh states.

Fox told the Supreme Court the division did not fail to get a polling place.

“They thought they had a polling place,” she said, adding that the division “did not learn until later that the property owner was going to have a problem with that.” Election officials took reasonable steps to provide notice of the change, Fox said.

Holly Wells, an attorney for Snyder, said Pruitt’s claims have changed as the case has gone on.

“And it really has this feel of ... it feels like a witch hunt,” Wells said. “It feels like you are trying to do exactly the opposite of validating an election. You are trying to tear it down, and you’ll do it by any means possible. And when I say you, I mean the plaintiff.”

Stone said the case was not about “political gamesmanship.”