Anchorage Superior Court Judge Josie Garton has dismissed every claim brought by Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt in his effort to overturn his 11-vote election loss to Democratic Rep.-elect Liz Snyder.
The announcement was made less than 10 minutes into what was scheduled to be the first of two days of evidentiary hearings on the conspiracy-tinged legal challenge that sought to challenge the residency of nearly two-dozen voters, the constitutionality of a decision made by the Alaska Supreme Court to put the witness signature requirement on absentee ballots on hold during the pandemic and the state’s last-minute move of a polling location.
During the hearing, Garton explained that all claims except the polling place change were being dismissed on substantive grounds. She explained the dismissal of the polling location claim was dismissed due to “a pleading error” and would permit that portion of the evidentiary hearing to still be held in preparation for an appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court.
The Alaska Supreme Court has already made time for oral arguments regarding the challenge on Jan. 8, 2021, and Garton is serving as the special master to review evidence for that appeal. The legislative session is set to begin on Jan. 19, 2021.
In her written order, Garton wrote that the court is required to evaluate the claims with a flexibility for the plaintiffs but “is not required to accept a plaintiff’s ‘unwarranted factual inference and conclusions of law.'”
Garton’s dismissal is largely based on Pruitt’s late filing of his election complaints, which were amended to include additional claims challenging voters’ residency after the 10-day window to file an election contest. Garton wrote, though, that even if many of the claims had been filed on time they still would have been dismissed because they failed to meet basic grounds to show anything biased the election against Pruitt.
Pruitt’s complaint doesn’t specifically detail how his claims cost him the election, largely relying on the assertion that the “integrity of the election is at question” in an effort to either throw out votes for Snyder or to hold an entirely new election. Garton writes that is not enough.
“In an election contest, a generalized claim that ‘the integrity of the election is at question’ is insufficient to warrant relief,” Garton wrote. “Instead, a plaintiff must allege that the malconduct was sufficient to change the outcome of the election.”
Garton rejected Pruitt’s claims regarding the Alaska Supreme Court’s decision to put the witness signature requirement for absentee ballots amid the pandemic. Pruitt had claimed that the state had failed to implement an enhanced method to verify voter signatures, a requirement that Garton notes has no basis in state law.
Garton dismissed the polling location change on the grounds that Pruitt failed to show how it may have biased voters against him. She wrote that additional claims raised in a follow-up briefing, accusing the Division of Elections of dragging its heels on finding a new polling place, cannot be considered because they were not raised in the original complaint.
The court later heard from several poll workers, regional elections director Julie Husmann and Pruitt about the move from Wayland Baptist College to Muldoon Town Center during for the primary election and then from Muldoon Town Center to Begich Middle School for the general.
Garton also denied an effort by Pruitt’s team to challenge the residency of nearly two dozen voters based off of records that they sold their homes in the district before the 30-day window to participate in the general election. Though the filings don’t directly accuse the voters of committing fraud, Garton notes that’s essentially what they did.
Garton rejected the effort because under state law, residency can only be challenged during the recount appeal and not in an election challenge. Garton said Pruitt’s filing that named the voters alleged to have been ineligible thus committing voter fraud, without evidence, proves why this shouldn’t be allowed.
“The court has rejected plaintiff’s request to take judicial notice of the residency of particular voter’s based on records of property transactions because residency is not a fact susceptible to judicial notice. Selling real property does not divest a voter of residence, or even give rise to an inference that a voter is no longer a resident,” Garton wrote. “Plaintiff’s withdrawal of the names of fifteen of the 21 voters he publicly accused, without any basis, improperly voted in the election demonstrates the danger of allowing contestants to question voter qualifications after an election through election contests.”
Why it matters
The whole thing in many ways mimics President Donald Trump’s many failed efforts to challenge his loss of the presidency, with one of Pruitt’s filing even echoing conspiratorial claims about the Dominion voting machines (which the state audited and found were actually more accurate than the previous machines).
The swift rejection of all of Pruitt’s claims and Garton’s written order highlighting just how baseless and unconvincing the claims are also, in many ways, mimics President Donald Trump’s many failed efforts to challenge his loss of the presidency.
If elected, Pruitt would have provided pro-Dunleavy Republicans with a critical 21st vote in order to coalesce a pro-Dunleavy majority organization in the House. Instead, the House stands at a 20-20 split between Republicans and a bipartisan coalition of Democrats, independents and one moderate Republican.
As it stands, the House as well as the Senate remain without a majority organization, which would prevent the Legislature from doing much of anything when it convenes in Jan. 19.