ANCHORAGE—Anchorage Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth ruled today that the Division of Elections improperly rejected the petition to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy from office, finding all but one of the claims brought by the group met the grounds for recall.
The ruling, which was made from the bench after hearing oral arguments from the Recall Dunleavy campaign, the state and the anti-recall campaign, moves the case forward and requires the Division of Elections to issue signature booklets within 30 days. It’s expected that the case will be appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, which could place a stay on the issuing of booklets.
“This court reverses the director of elections decision to reject the recall application,” he said. “The recall application should have been issued.”
The Recall Dunleavy campaign brought several claims against the governor that range from his failure to appoint a judge by the 45-day deadline, his use of state resources for advertising attacking his political opponents, his politically motivated vetoes of the court system and a mistaken veto of Medicaid funds. The claims were outlined in a 200-word statement.
Both the state and attorneys for Stand Tall with Mike, the anti-recall campaign, argued that the 200-word statement lacked enough particularity in its claims. Though neither group disputed the factual grounds of the recall, they argued that the recall campaign’s statement didn’t prove the governor’s actions created harm, which they said are needed to prove neglect of duties, incompetence and lack of fitness.
They also argued that voters must be entirely informed on the issues through that statement alone.
Aarseth disagreed, noting that the recall is a political process and that prior recall cases show that the current claims are sufficient to get the issue in front of voters. As for the damage done by the governor’s actions, Aarseth said that’s something for the voters to weigh if the recall reaches a vote.
“This is a political process. Neither side, as you would be at trial, is limited to a particular day or a certain number of hours or even limited to evidentiary rules as to what they can present when they campaign, if the recall ballot is eventually issued. In that campaign, they have the ability to explain to the public what the allegations and defenses mean, and what the evidence is or the lack thereof to support each sides’ position,” he said. “The point is, is that it really only takes a single sentence with a few words to adequately put a person on notice of the conduct that is being alleged.”
Aarseth did strike one portion of the recall campaign’s claims that Dunleavy’s vetoes violated the separation of powers because they “preclude the legislature from upholding its constitutional Health, Education and Welfare responsibilities.” During the oral arguments, Aarseth seemed skeptical about this point and noted that the Legislature has the ability to override a veto with a three-fourths majority vote.
Aarseth is expected to issue a formal written order next week, which will clear the way for appeals to the Alaska Supreme Court. State attorney Margaret Paton-Walsh said she was disappointed with the ruling, but said that the state will be reviewing the outcome before determining the next step forward.
About the recall
The recall campaign was launched in the wake of the governor’s budget vetoes delivered this summer. The bipartisan effort submitted 49,006 signatures about a month after the effort launched, smashing the 28,501-signature threshold required to apply for the recall.
To actually call an election, though, the group will need a second round of signature gathering where it’s required to collect signatures equal to 25 percent of the turnout in the 2018 election, or 71,252 signatures.
Once the group submits those signatures, the Division of Elections is required to call a special election within 60-90 days. If either the statewide general or primary elections fall in that range, the issue would be added to that ballot.