Lawsuit filed seeking to add Sweeney to special election ballot, but judge inclined to keep three-way race

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It’s not coming from the campaign of Tara Sweeney or the independent expenditure group backing her, but a legal challenge was filed today against the Division of Elections’ decision to bar the moderate Republican from taking the vacant spot in the special general election.

Sweeney finished fifth in the special primary election and backers hoped that she would be elevated to the special general election following the surprising withdrawal of independent candidate Al Gross on Monday. The Division of Elections ruled against it, finding the 64-day deadline for replacements set in Ballot Measure 2 had already passed. The challenge filed by a trio of Alaska Native women—Sunny Guerin, Elizabeth Asisaun Toovak and Vera Lincoln—argues the spirit of Ballot Measure 2 calls for a four-way race.

With ballots expected to be finalized next week, the litigation is set for a turnaround that would make the Alaska Redistricting trial look glacial.

Which is to say that a preliminary decision has already been outlined by Judge William Morse after hearing an abbreviated oral argument this afternoon (which I thought would just be a simple status hearing and missed). Alaska Beacon’s James Brooks covered the hearing on Twitter, with the preliminary takeaway being that Judge Morse is inclined to side with the state’s position that the rules for the general election also apply to the special election.

“I believe that the provision of 15.25.100(c), including the 64-day provision, applies to this particular election. And that the director’s decision, therefore, not to replace Dr. Gross’s name, follows the statute,” the judge said, according to Brooks.

That would keep it a three-way race between Democrat Mary Peltola and Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich.

Still, there’s another round of briefings and potentially another round of oral arguments before Judge Morse is expected to issue a final decision by noon Friday. An appeal to the Supreme Court is expected.

Making lemonade from lemons

The Sweeney campaign had already made it clear that it wouldn’t be directly appealing the Division of Elections’ decision, arguing, basically, it’s a problem created by Ballot Measure 2 and someone else’s fight to fight.

Regardless of what happens, though, the Sweeney campaign has been quick to capitalize on the fact that the guidance came from questions raised by the Begich campaign. Sweeney has made sure to take swipes at Begich in statements made since the Division of Elections’ decision, including one issued today:

“It is concerning to me that Nick Begich sought immediate legal action to block the advancement of my candidacy to limit the choices for Alaskans. He is clearly threatened by my candidacy and for good reason – I’m focused on empowerment, bringing people together and doing what is right for Alaska and Nick Begich is only concerned about his political ambitions,” she said in a prepared statement this afternoon. “If I advance to the final four, I can promise you I will bring my fighting Alaska spirit to center stage. This election is critical and we need an effective leader fighting for Alaska in Congress, and I know I’ve got what it takes.”

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