Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer today announced in what was one of the more bizarre news conferences held by the administration that the special primary election to begin the process of filling the late Congressman Don Young’s term in office will be held on June 11 and will be conducted via a by-mail election.
The election reforms approved by voters in 2020 requires special elections be conducted with an open, non-partisan special primary election and then a ranked-choice special election (same as all other elections under the new system). The special election will be on the state’s Aug. 16 primary election ballot, alongside the primary election for the full term. Previously, parties would dictate who appears on a special election ballot and it could’ve gone to a run-off in the event no one reached a majority.
Candidates for the race will have until 5 p.m. April 1 to file to appear on the special primary election ballot. Alaskans will need to register to vote by May 13 to vote in the special primary election. Here’s all the dates in a more readable format:
- April 1, 5 p.m.: The filing deadline for candidates to enter the special election.
- May 13: The deadline to register to vote in the June 11 special primary election.
- June 1: The filing deadline for this year’s regular elections.
- June 11: Special primary election day (be sure to get your ballots postmarked).
- June 25: Deadline to certify the special primary election results.
- Aug. 16: The ranked-choice special election as well as the regular primary.
- Nov. 8: The general election, which will be ranked choice.
State election officials described the situation as daunting with apparent labor and paper shortages, explaining that the decision to shift to a by-mail election as allowed by law was needed because hiring up the required poll workers for an in-person special primary election would be challenging. Overall, however, they were confident the special election could be conducted both effectively and securely.
The by-mail ballots will include postage, Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai explained, noting that federal law requires by-mail ballots provided to military members to include postage and there was no way to determine who’s active service and who’s not under a blanket by-mail election. Ballots can also be dropped off at state and local election offices, but drive-by drop boxes have not yet been discussed. She also said the witness signature requirement will be enforced (it was suspended by the court during the pandemic) but that additional measures like signature verification can’t be enacted without new laws.
The special election to fill out the remainder of Young’s term will be the first under the state’s new voter-approved election system, which calls for open primaries where the top-four finishers advance to a ranked-choice general election. Fenumiai said it will require an accelerated outreach effort to inform voters on how the changes will impact voting and called on the media to spread “factual” information on the new system.
Lt. Gov. Meyer was largely cool on the new system, as most conservative Republicans have been, saying it’s the law and they need to follow it.
“We are just implementing the laws. We don’t create them or pass them, but the ranked-choice voting was not our idea. It was done by initiative, the voters approved it so it’s now state law,” he said. “We’re going to implement it the best we can.”
Gov. Dunleavy was far more outspoken in his animosity toward the system, telling reporters that he didn’t think that two elections—as is specifically outlined by voter-approved initiative—is necessary.
“I don’t think you do, but the law states that we do,” he said. “So that’s apparently what’s going to happen.”
In a bizarre move, Dunleavy kicked off the entire news conference for personally attacking the credibility of the Anchorage Daily News and ADN political reporter James Brooks. Dunleavy was furious about some unspecified tweet that indicated he has control over the election, which he does in the sense that it’s his decision when the elections are held but he has no direct say in their operations.
The reason for the governor’s vitriol seemed clearer later in the news conference when Brooks asked about apparent efforts by Dunleavy to lobby legislative leadership on an emergency measure to cancel the special primary portion of the election. The request was reportedly rebuffed by legislative leadership as both not technically possible as voter initiatives are protected from substantive changes for two years and not politically doable as it’d be overriding the will of the voters, an account that I’ve also heard.
Dunleavy bristled at the disclosure but didn’t deny it outright. Instead, he tried to reframe it as simply asking questions about the process, not an attempt to subvert the will of the voters (which, let’s be clear, it is).
“There was no attempt to override Ballot Measure 2,” he said. “The discussion just went to the idea do we need to have two elections for this? And if we didn’t, then the Legislature would be the vehicle by which that changed. That was the nature of the conversation.”
Lt. Gov. Meyer, for his part, said having a 20-person ranked-choice election would be a nightmare.