So inconceivable is Rep. Lance Pruitt’s
17-16-vote margin of defeat in his rematch against Democrat Liz Snyder that right-wing blog Must Read Alaska, which in all its electoral wisdom prematurely crowned Pruitt as House Speaker, is now floating the idea that there MUST have been fraud in the district.
It’s the Alaska Supreme Court’s decision to suspend the pointless witness requirement on by-mail ballots (even though by the state’s own admission it’s never been used to identify fraud)! It’s the Outside campaigners working for Al Gross that must have done… something!
Never mind that after winning a narrow victory in 2018 in a district that voted for Democrat Mark Begich and Alyse Galvin over Republicans Mike Dunleavy and Don Young, Pruitt spent the following two years as one of Dunleavy’s chief enablers, mocked people concerned with the governor’s deep budget cuts and ran a downright putrid campaign.
And never mind that we saw a massive statewide effort to not only bolster by-mail voting but to educate Alaskans on how to ensure their by-mail ballots were counted. Ballot reject rates were low statewide, not just in House District 27, where 18 ballots were rejected. Never mind the enormous amount of spending that came into a race that progressive donors saw as winnable.
It’s frankly surprising Pruitt didn’t lose by a larger margin, but such is the incumbent advantage —and the advantage of continuing door-to-door campaigning during a pandemic.
And as for the election itself, never mind that it’s the Republicans who are in control of the election process. And never mind that it’s those Republicans who’ve not exactly been shy about flexing their powers to disadvantage progressive candidates and causes at every opportunity allowed by the courts.
But the biggest problem with the Trumpian cries of fraud at an undesirable outcome—aside from the attack on a fundamental foundation of American democracy—is that Republicans truly have little recourse to challenge the election short of throwing out its results altogether.
MRA’s baseless accusations, which play at existing conservative consternation with accessible voting and their carefully cultivated alternate reality, provide no evidence. The Pruitt campaign has provided no evidence. The Division of Elections itself has provided no evidence, saying Wednesday that it had not found any evidence of fraud (though Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer plans an unprecedented audit of Ballot Measure 2 votes anyways).
You can be sure we would have heard about it as it would not only bolster Pruitt but would give perhaps the first real bit of ammunition to Trump and his allies’ fever dream of a stolen election.
On a more practical matter, Republican election officials and Republican campaigners themselves didn’t think to segregate non-witnessed ballots from the rest of the count in case of a legal challenge (as other states did). Once the Division of Elections has deemed a ballot eligible to be counted, it’s separated from its identifying envelope and added to the rest with no way to filter out potentially problematic ballots.
Pruitt’s team could have contested every single ballot cast without a witness signature, but they didn’t.
If Pruitt and company somehow do come up with evidence to doubt the validity of thousands of by-mail ballots, aside from arguing to throw out the entirety of the election they would perhaps resort to the same arguments Republicans used in the legal battle over the 2016 North Slope Democratic primary race between then-Rep. Benjamin Nageak and Dean Westlake. It was argued that a percentage of the ballots from a problematic precinct should be removed from the count so Republican-friendly Nageak would be declared the winner.
The Alaska Supreme Court ultimately struck down the maneuver, finding while the move may have its merits that it was ultimately wrong because it didn’t account for the unique circumstances of the 2016 election. And if there’s one thing to know about the 2020 elections, it’s that they’re unique.
Once the election results are certified next week, Pruitt will have the opportunity to request a recount on the state’s dime. And as was the process with the 2018 Fairbanks House race where Republican Rep. Bart LeBon won by a single vote, he will also have an opportunity to challenge ballot markings and pull into question the 18 ballots thatwererejected.
This doesn’t offer him a good shot at overturning an election that he and his allies seemed convinced was in the bag. And perhaps that’s why—like a cornered Trump—they’re raising the ugly specter of election fraud when there is none.
One campaigner told us the claims gave them “a good chuckle.”