Making History: Murkowski Candidacy Unites the AK Democratic Party & the GOP
Monday morning, I received an email press release that the Alaska Democratic Party was announcing that they would be joining the AK GOP in a lawsuit against the State of Alaska Division of Elections. The suit alleges that the Division of Elections is violating its own regulations (specifically 6 AAC 25.070(b)) by allowing voters to look at a list of write-in candidates with their names and political party affiliations:
The DOE’s unprecedented listing and posting of Murkowski’s name violates Alaska law. The ADP filed the lawsuit seeking to prevent the State from illegally providing information about write-in candidates, to ensure that election law is followed, and to protect the integrity of the voting process.
Alaska Democratic Party Chair Patti Higgins asked, “If you allow poll workers to assist voters with more than procedure, where does it stop?”
Higgins stated, “The Division of Elections has directed poll workers to provide a list of write-in candidates to voters who request assistance. This is illegal. The State of Alaska has already determined in 6 AAC 25.070(b) what is allowed when assisting voters.
That is the law. It must be followed.”
6 AAC 25.070(b) states, “Information regarding a write-in candidate may not be discussed, exhibited, or provided at the polling place, or within 200 feet of any entrance to the polling place.”
There was a press conference at 11:00 AM, where the lawyer for the Democratic Party, Thomas Daniel, explained the lawsuit. (The Republicans didn’t make it for that one.)
The Party then handed out a packet of information which included the lawsuit and the back-and-forth communication between Div. of Election’s Chair Gail Fenumiai and the AK Democratic Party…joined in the last letter by the AK Republican Party.
(NOTE: For you astute Mudflatters, yes…Tom Daniel is the very same attorney who dismissed several ethics complaints while he was under contract to the Personnel Board. And, yes, one of them was Arctic Cat. He also did NOT dismiss the Legal Defense ethics complaint which was eventually completed by Tim Petumenos. Our handshake was only slightly awkward…Alaska politics is all about strange bedfellows.)
At 2:00 pm, there was a hearing led by Judge Frank Pfiffner, who did a good job asking both sides some tough questions.
However, he made several points that neither Asst. Attorney General for the Division of Elections Margaret Paton-Walsh nor Murkowski attorney Scott Kendall (in my opinion) seemed to sufficiently address:
- The portion of the US Code that DOE points to as their reason for using the voter lists (Sec. 1973aa-6) is specific to “Voting assistance for blind, disabled or illiterate persons”. Alaska Statute 15.15.240 is based upon that Federal Law. Judge Pfiffner wanted to know how is this an appropriate application to this situation?
- Everything hinges on regulation 6 AAC 25.070(b): “Information regarding a write-in candidate may not be discussed, exhibited, or provided at the polling place, or within 200 feet of any entrance to the polling place, on election day.” Judge Pfiffner wanted to know how AS 15.15 240 could supercede this?
The judge has given DOE and the Murkowski camp until 12:00 noon on Tuesday to provide further information. He then will allow AK Dems and the AK GOP to respond by 4:30 pm.
More than likely included in the Democratic response will be something on which DOE’s Gail Fenumiai never provided an answer: whether the Division had ever provided such a write-in list before. After the hearing, Asst. AG Paton-Walsh acknowledged to ADP Executive Director Deborah Williams that this is the first time the DOE has provided a list.
Also after the hearing, Rob Sterling got a chance to speak with attorney Tom Daniel.
You may remember Mr. Sterling from his early voting experience at the Chugiak Senior Center. That experience was part of the basis for the Democrats original complaint to the DOE. It’s a perfect example of what can happen when a supposedly innocuous list of names is provided to very human poll workers:
Rob Sterling went today to the Chugiak Senior Center to cast his early vote. After showing his ID, getting his ballot, and going to his voting area, he asked an election worker, “How do you do a write-in?”
The election worker took Sterling’s ballot, re-oriented it, pointed to the U.S. Senate write-in space, and said:
“Since it’s only you and me in here, what you do is fill in this oval here and write Lisa Murkowski’s name here.”
Then the election worker called over another election worker who provided Sterling with a sheet of paper with Lisa Murkowski’s name. Sterling, who is training to be a poll watcher, said, “I thought you weren’t allowed to do this.” To which both election workers replied, “We were told we could.”
Mr. Sterling was shocked and reported the incident to the Alaska Democrats. His shock was understandable, after viewing the instructions on “Write-Ins” out of the Division of Election’s own “Polling Place Election Procedures” from 2008:
The former volunteer poll worker who provided the guide, Wendy Farleigh, remembers her 2008 Early Voting training. She recalled that “you can never ever say the [specific] name for the voters.” If someone needed a name read, the poll worker would have to read the entire ballot.
How they went from that to providing a list of write-ins I’ll never know.
Judge Pfiffner promised a ruling by 9:00 am Wednesday morning. I won’t even attempt to make a prediction. I’ve been disappointed in Alaska legal proceedings so many times before.
Finally, as I was exiting the building, I had another “weird Alaska politics” moment…the sight of Bill McAllister standing with the State of Alaska and Murkowski folks:
You might remember Bill as the former Press Secretary pit bull for then-Gov. Sarah Palin. He left that position last summer, before Palin resigned, to start a new communications position with the Department of Law. It’s really interesting to see him with the Murkowski folks–long-time enemies of Palin.
Like I said…strange bedfellows…Alaska is just weird.