Alaska Legislature

Anchorage Democrat is qualified to hold state House seat, Alaska Supreme Court rules

Jennie Armstrong, elections

A divided Alaska Supreme Court ruled Friday that an Anchorage Democrat who won a state House race was a qualified candidate.

Earlier this week, Superior Court Judge Herman Walker Jr. issued a decision finding that Democrat Jennifer “Jennie” Armstrong met residency requirements and accepting the results of the November election. His decision was appealed by Republican Liz Vazquez, who lost to Armstrong, and four others who had joined her in challenging Armstrong’s win.

A brief order from the state Supreme Court, shortly after hearing arguments in the case Friday, said simply: “We affirm the superior court’s ultimate conclusion that Ms. Armstrong was a qualified candidate as required by law. A full decision will follow.”

Three justices heard the case: Chief Justice Daniel Winfree and Justices Jennifer Henderson and Susan Carney. Carney dissented, writing that she would reverse Walker’s finding that Armstrong was qualified.

Vazquez’s lawsuit alleged that Armstrong had not been an Alaska resident for at least three years immediately before filing for office and that Armstrong was therefore not qualified for the office.

Under the state constitution, to serve in the Legislature one must be a “qualified voter who has been a resident of Alaska for at least three years and of the district from which elected for at least one year, immediately preceding his filing for office.” The filing deadline was June 1.

Attorneys for Vazquez and the other plaintiffs in court documents said evidence supported the assertion that Armstrong’s residency did not begin until at least June 8, 2019. Vazquez attorney Stacey Stone made similar arguments Friday.

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The lawsuit had pointed to such things as a social media post, fishing license applications and the date when Armstrong registered to vote.

“While Armstrong may subjectively believe that she became a resident of Alaska when she ‘showed up, put her head down, and decided’ on May 20, 2019, the objective evidence says otherwise,” Stone and fellow attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote in court documents.

Armstrong said she moved to Alaska on May 20, 2019. She said that is when she and her now-husband discussed and decided she would move in with him in Anchorage. She testified her social media posts weren’t always contemporaneous and that a 2022 fishing license application tracing her residency to May 2019 was more precise than prior applications.

Walker, in his ruling, said he found Armstrong became a resident on May 20, 2019, based on the evidence provided to him. He said state law allows a resident to temporarily leave Alaska and maintain their residency as long as they intend to return. He said Armstrong left for prior commitments on May 20, 2019, and returned June 8, 2019.

He said he found her absence starting May 20, 2019, was temporary and that she “maintained her intent to return while she was away.”

Becky Bohrer, Associated Press

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

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