Alaska Supreme Court upholds Snyder’s victory over Pruitt

The Alaska Supreme Court has rejected Anchorage Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt’s attempt to overturn his 11-vote election loss to Democratic Rep.-elect Liz Snyder.

The court issued a one-paragraph order upholding Superior Court Judge Josie Garton’s ruling that Pruitt never showed enough evidence to contest the election result, a case that once was once based on far-ranging Trumpian claims before being whittled down to the state’s failure to properly notify the public of a last-minute move of one polling location.

[Read Garton’s report here]

The Alaska Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the election contest this morning, where Republican Anchorage Attorney Stacey Stone argued that Pruitt was due an election do-over because of the last-minute polling place move though she had trouble pointing to why anything presented in their case would justify such an extreme measure.

Pruitt’s case that the last-minute move had cost him the election rested on the testimony of a single GOP voter who arrived 15 minutes later than planned to the new polling location and didn’t feel like waiting in line even though the polls were open for another 11 hours. When justices noted that the voter had ample time to return to the polls or asked whether the long line would have been any different if the polling location hadn’t moved, Stone refused to consider those possibilities.

“I don’t think that we have to make that assumption,” she said. “It was her testimony that that 10-15 minutes made an impact on her perspective.”

Judge Garton, after holding two days of evidentiary hearings and briefings on the matter in December, found that the state had failed to follow the letter of the law on notifying the public of the last-minute change—specifically that it should have notified the Anchorage Municipal Clerk under state law—but had provided other notification to the public.

Garton found several failings in Pruitt’s arguments, including faulty logic offered by former Alaska Republican Party chair Randy Ruedrich that surmised the move denied Pruitt precisely 57 votes.

Pruitt’s legal arguments have continued to shift throughout the trial, a point that the justices as well as attorneys representing the state and Snyder have noted, and on Friday Stone argued that the Division of Elections was negligent because it had not double-checked that the polling location used for the primary would be usable for the general election until Oct. 22.

Assistant Attorney General Laura Fox called the accusations “free floating” and that they didn’t have a place in a Supreme Court case because they were not included in the previous briefings. She said that up until Oct. 22, the state had no reason to think that the location used for the primary election was no longer usable (the primary was moved to the Muldoon Town Center before its owner said it would not host it for the general election).

Fox argued that even if the accusations were proof of malconduct, Pruitt and Stone had failed to show how it actually cost them the election.

“That’s almost a concession that they didn’t meet their burden of proof,” she said. “They couldn’t produce a single voter who couldn’t find the polling place.”  

Snyder’s attorney Holly Wells argued it was reasonable for the Division of Elections to assume that the polling location was still valid for the general election, likening it to running a sports league at a local venue. Would you ask the owner for permission to change the number of teams participating?

“It’s not perfect,” Wells said about the move, “but it’s not malconduct.”

Wells noted that polling location changes happen in nearly every election and warned that if Pruitt’s efforts were successful, it would open the door for losing candidates to challenge anything and everything in an election.

“It feels like a witch hunt,” she said. “It feels like you (Pruitt) are trying to find any reason to tear down an election.”

The legislative session is set to start on Jan. 19. Snyder’s victory gives the existing bipartisan coalition its 20th member, denying party-line Republicans an outright majority in the House.

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