Court denies state’s request to hurry House District 1 lawsuit as LeBon joins suit

The Supreme Court has denied the state’s request to hurry up with the lawsuit challenging the results of the pivotal House District 1 race where just one vote currently separates Republican Bart LeBon from Democrat Kathryn Dodge.

The state argued in an emergency filing on Monday that the proposed oral argument on Jan. 8, 2019 won’t give legislators enough time to organize with the start of the session just a week later on Jan. 15, 2019.

The state argued the tight turnaround “will create hardships for the Legislature and increased expenses for the state because the recently-elected 31st Legislature is finely balanced and the outcome of the House District 1 election may hold the key to the formation of the majority in the Alaska State House.”

Republicans staked their claim on the House less than a day after polls closed with a lean 21-member majority that has taken multiple dings since then. Not only does it rely on LeBon’s victory, but it’s also lost Rep.-elect Nancy Dahlstrom to a job in the Dunleavy administration as well as Rep. Gary Knopp, who announced over the weekend that he had no interest in a caucus doomed to implode midsession.

Dodge brought the original appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court after the results certified at the end of the recount showed her losing by one vote.

Her challenge centers on four ballots: the well-reported “overvote” that wasn’t counted because the voter had filled in both the LeBon and Dodge ovals even though the person marked an “X” over the LeBon circle, which Dodge says should be counted for her; a vote that wasn’t counted because the individual’s address was reportedly automatically changed to a commercial mailing address outside the district, which Dodge says should be counted; and two ballots that were cast by people with residences listed at an auto repair shop and a commercial business park, which Dodge hopes to disqualify.

Dodge argued against rushing the lawsuit, arguing that it would “not allow sufficient time for the parties or the court to adequately brief and consider the issues raised in this appeal. This is not a rubber stamp kind of case. The issues—such as the evidentiary and legal standards for determining voter residency—are nuanced and not entirely clear under Alaska law.”

She pointed out that the appointment of special master Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth, who’s tasked with overseeing the hearings and compiling a report by Dec. 21, is evidence enough of the case’s complexity.

The court agreed.

LeBon joins suit

LeBon and the Alaska Republican Party also filed as intervenors in the case on Monday, arguing that the court should uphold the results of the case. The team also went on to challenge Division of Elections actions on six ballots.

The team argues that two ballots with marks touching both the LeBon and Dodge ovals should have been counted as overvotes, but were registered as votes for Dodge. One of those votes included an “X” mark over one of the ovals, but the legal filing doesn’t specify whether that was over the LeBon or Dodge oval.

There were two absentee ballots cast by spouses that the Division of Elections rejected, according to the LeBon filing, because the identifiers had been mixed up. “The husband’s ballot contained the wife’s identifier and vice versa,” the filing explained, but argue that they had “substantially complied” with the law.

The final two ballots were both cases where the voters marked their votes on the right-hand side of the ballot instead of using the ovals on the left-hand side of the ballot.

“While the law is clear on its face with regard to how a mark should be placed touching the oval next to the candidate’s name on the ballot, the voter’s intention is readily apparent from the face of these two ballots,” the motion argues.

Schedule ahead

  • Hearing briefs are due from all parties no later than noon on Monday, Dec. 17.
  • Reply briefs are due by noon on Wednesday, Dec. 19.
  • Evidentiary hearing is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 20.
  • Master’s report covering findings of fact and conclusions of law due by Dec. 21.
  • Objections to the master’s report due by Dec. 28, 2018.
  • Replies to those objections are due by Jan. 2, 2019.
  • Oral argument is scheduled for Jan. 8 at 9 a.m.

Why it matters

The state’s right to argue that the outcome of the House District 1 race could have a big impact on the landscape of the House, but it’s not entirely convincing that a week isn’t enough time for the legislators to organize.

Republicans took fewer than 24 hours to claim the House after the election, after all.

Rep. Knopp is already underway with his efforts to organize a truly bipartisan coalition, and you can bet that he and anyone else who’s pushing to organize already has the potential outcomes of this lawsuit in mind.

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