Division of Elections: Sweeney doesn’t get Gross’ spot in special election

The Midtown Mall early in-person voting location. (Photo by Matt Buxton/TMS)

The special election to fill Alaska’s seat in the U.S. House continues to get weirder.

Following independent Al Gross’ surprising withdrawal on Monday, the big question was: What happens to his spot in the state’s first ranked-choice election? Would fifth-place finisher Tara Sweeney, a moderate Republican, get the nod?

No.

At least that’s the answer from the Division of Elections today, a decision certain to draw a legal challenge.

Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai says the state reached the decision after reviewing the state’s election law, which was altered with the passage of Ballot Measure 2 in 2020. That measure introduced open primaries and ranked-choice general elections and included an overhaul of special elections. While the parties once had control of the slate of candidates in special elections and replacements during regular elections, Ballot Measure 2 extended the open primary/ranked general to special elections, creating special primary election, and removed parties from the replacement process altogether.

The result is Alaska Statute 15.25.100(c), which says a fifth-place candidate will advance to the top-four general election if a spot becomes vacant but only if it’s 64 days before the election. Today, which is the day Gross officially withdrew, is 56 days before the Aug. 16 special election.

Proponents of the voter initiative and supporters of Sweeney argue the 64-day limit is meant to only apply to the general election races and not special elections, but the Division of Elections disagreed.

“The special general election is 56 days away. Because there are fewer than 64 days before the election, the statute does not allow the Division of Elections to place the fifth-place candidate on the ballot,” Fenumiai said in her letter.

The letter adds, though, that there’s still time to remove Gross’ name from the special general ballot, which would leave Democrat Mary Peltola and Republicans Nick Begich and Sarah Palin in the race. The letter also outlines the fast process needed to turn the election results around and prepare them for the Aug. 16 ballot, which will be shared with the regular primary election:

  • Saturday, June 25 — Certification target for the special election results
  • Sunday, June 26 — The deadline to withdraw from the special general election
  • Tuesday, June 28 — Noon deadline to finalize the ballot

The decision is almost certain to be challenged in court—as have most other significant decisions out of the Division of Elections in recent years—and the letter anticipates that being the case.

“Any party that disagrees with these decisions should file suit immediately. The Division requires a final determination from the courts by noon on Tuesday, June 28 in order to print ballots in time to meet state and federal deadlines and keep the special general election on schedule to be combined with the regular August 16 primary.”

The letter

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