Judge orders halt to printing of already-printed ballots, says state hasn’t justified controversial change

Democrat-backed independent congressional candidate Alyse Galvin secured a partial victory today when a judge today ruled the state must halt printing ballots that omitted the fact that Galvin—who is running against Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young—is an independent.

But just what impact the order will have is unclear as the state said during oral arguments on Wednesday that more than 800,000 ballots for the general election have already been printed with the contested design.

Still, Judge Jennifer Henderson wrote in today’s order that Galvin’s team “has shown that immediate and irreparable injury will occur” if her independent status is hidden from the ballot. Her order makes it clear that the litigation is still in process but that there are clear legal issues for the sudden, unannounced and unexplained change.

“(Galvin) raises clear and very significant questions, however, regarding what appears to be a departure by (the Division of Elections and its director Gail Fenumiai) from the plain language of (Alaska election law),’” she wrote. “The statute requires, among other things, that ‘the [candidate’s] party affiliation, if any, shall be designated after the name of the candidate.”

Democrats, independents and Libertarians have criticized the decision as politically motivated, just the latest of several efforts (most of which have been successfully challenged in court) to tip the elections towards Republicans and the administration’s interests.

In a prepared statement, Galvin said she was happy to see the order and disappointed that the state made the change with no notice.

“I am pleased that the court granted a temporary hold,” she said. “Alaskans deserve to have all legally required information as they cast their vote. We look forward to presenting our arguments to preserve Alaskans’ voting rights and keep politics out of the Constitutional voting process. It is very disappointing that the State altered the ballot to remove information that is important to Alaska voters. The state created a last-minute crisis that didn’t need to happen.”

Follow-up briefings are due by the end of today and a second hearing on the issue is scheduled for Friday. The federal deadline for the state to mail ballots to overseas voters is Saturday, though federal law includes an exemption if the ballots fall under legal contest. The order requires Galvin’s team to post a $10,000 bond to cover the state’s costs if she loses. The amount is about twice of what was roughly estimated on Wednesday to reprint the overseas ballots.

The state, on Wednesday, defended the ballot redesign by arguing the method by which a candidate arrived at the general election—not their voter registration—is the only thing required by law to be on the ballot. In addition to wiping away Galvin’s non-affiliated status—which is how her undeclared registration was explained on the 2018 ballot—the move also erased the Libertarian registration of several candidates who reached the general election via nominating petition.

Henderson said in today’s order that the state’s argument isn’t convincing, at this point in the litigation, and that Galvin’s position that both a candidate’s party-endorsement and the voter registration being is supported by the law and precedent.

A state attorney told the court that the decision was made unilaterally by Elections Director Gail Fenumiai back in June—even though the decision was not made public until sample ballots were posted online over the weekend, conveniently after hundreds of thousands of ballots had been printed and with the overseas deadline fast approach—but never offered a clear reason why.

Henderson noted that lack of an explanation in today’s order, saying the state “has not thus far asserted any meaningful or cogent reason for not including this information on the current general election ballot.”

The order

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