When the Alaska Supreme Court rejected soon-to-be-former Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt’s attempt to overturn his 11-vote loss to Democratic Rep.-elect Liz Snyder last week, the court sent the decision back to Superior Court Judge Josie Garton to pronounce a winner.
That order came on Monday, bringing finality to a race that has included a recount, a preposterous election contest that relied on Grand Canyon-sized leaps of logic and a conspiracy-laden recount appeal that accused dozens of voters of fraud without evidence.
“This court PRONOUNCES Elizabeth Snyder as the candidate elected to Alaska House District 27 in the 2020 General Election,” wrote Judge Garton in an order issued Monday.
Garton heard evidence in Pruitt’s election contest over two days in December and served as special master to take evidence on the recount appeal. She found neither particularly convincing, writing at one point that the court “is not required to accept a plaintiff’s ‘unwarranted factual inference and conclusions of law.’”
Pruitt’s case was continually whittled down throughout the process and the final claim brought to the Alaska Supreme Court centered on a last-minute move of one in-person polling location ahead of election day. The 27-915 polling place is traditionally held at Wayland Baptist College but was moved to the Muldoon Town Center for the primary election because the owners of the Wayland Baptist told election workers that they intended to screen all voters for covid before allowing them entry.
The Division of Elections had planned to continue to use the Muldoon Town Center—which is home to a polling place for a different House District—for the general election but were informed on Oct. 22 by the Muldoon Town Center owner that they didn’t want to host a second polling location because of hitches with the primary election.
That triggered the move of the polling center to the Begich Middle School and messages were placed at both Wayland Baptist and the Muldoon Town Center informing people of the correct polling location. The state also updated its website and a hotline but, as Garton ultimately found, had failed to follow the letter of the law on public notices for polling location moves, namely that it should have notified the Anchorage Municipal Clerk (though even Garton concedes that it’s unclear just how much of a difference such notification would have made on turnout).
At the Supreme Court, Pruitt’s attorney Stacey Stone had difficulty explaining a clear link between why the move warranted a new election. The only evidence they could provide that it prevented someone from voting was the testimony of one Republican voter who arrived to Begich Middle School 15 minutes later than planned—about 11 hours before polls closed—and didn’t feel like waiting in line.
“We’re unable to discern the impact of the state action so if this is malconduct and we’re truly unable to determine the consequence of that malconduct on the part of the state impacting the constitutional right to vote, the only proper remedy in this case is a new eleciton within the House district,” she said.
The judges weren’t convinced and at several points poked at the holes in the voter’s story about being unwilling to wait in line.
While Stone and Pruitt offered the Trumpian line that all they were concerned about was election integrity, the state and attorneys for Snyder saw it very differently.
“It feels like a witch hunt,” Holly Wells, the attorney for Snyder said at trial. “It feels like you (Pruitt) are trying to do exactly the opposite of validating an election. You are trying to tear it down and you’ll do it by any means possible.”
The legislative session is set to get underway next Tuesday and many legislators and legislative staffers are already on their way to Juneau.
As it stands, neither the House nor the Senate have agreed to majority caucus organizations.