The Alaska Division of Elections and Democratic legislative candidate Jennie Armstrong, who is poised to win a House seat in west Anchorage, have both filed to dismiss a lawsuit challenging Armstrong’s eligibility to hold office.
In filings from earlier this month, both argue that the complaint—which was brought by four Anchorage residents who’ve all contributed to Armstrong’s Republican opponent—was brought outside the established windows for such a challenge and should have to wait until the election is completed.
Armstrong currently leads in the race for House District 16 with 3,491 votes or 53.44% of the vote to Republican Liz Vazquez’s 3,027 votes or 46.33% of the vote. The state reports another 1,148 generally left-leaning absentee and early ballots have been returned but have yet to be counted. The next results update is expected on Tuesday.
The lawsuit mirrors claims first circulated by the Alaska Landmine, relying on a handful of social media posts and fishing license applications to suggest Armstrong doesn’t meet the residency requirement to hold office in Alaska. The Alaska Constitution requires candidates live in Alaska for three years before filing for office.
It’s the second high-profile lawsuit challenging a candidate’s eligibility, but unlike the case facing far-right Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman—where the state argued the Division of Elections has no mechanism to enforce the state’s disloyalty clause—the state has clearly outlined procedures for challenging a candidate’s residency status.
State law allows for challenges to a candidate’s eligibility 10 days after the candidate filing deadline in June or after the election is completed through an election contest.
“Plaintiffs should know that this challenge was clearly filed both too late and too early, and that their suit is therefore not a legitimate use of the courts,” argues the filing made by Armstrong’s attorney, Scott Kendall. “If this case was meant to challenge Armstrong’s eligibility to appear on the ballot, (state law) required such a challenge to be filed by June 11, 2022. If this case is meant to challenge to Armstrong’s qualification to be seated as a legislator, it cannot be filed until she is certified as the winner, assuming she wins the race. Instead, Plaintiffs curiously filed this case on October 31, while early voting had already begun, and just over one week before election day.”
And, as has been the case with all kinds of legal action heading into election day, Armstrong’s team calls shenanigans on the entire lawsuit for its timing.
“It is beyond dispute that this challenge is procedurally defective as filed. So why was this case filed? For one reason: to serve as a late-breaking campaign stunt intended to misinform voters and disrupt Armstrong’s campaign for office. It will not work,” they write. “And this Court should not reward Plaintiffs’ misuse of the legal system by attempting to find some way to reach the merits of a case that has none.”
The state, using somewhat softer language, makes essentially the same argument in its filing, arguing that not only is the plaintiffs’ timing off but that they’ve failed to meet several requirements needed for the court to put the certification of the election on hold.
“The Court also lacks jurisdiction because this election contest is not yet ripe in that we do not yet know whether Ms. Armstrong will win the election,” the state said in its filing. “There is no such thing as an election contest to disqualify a defeated candidate.”
The state also notes several factual inaccuracies in the lawsuit—which was filed by residents Chris Duke, Randy Eledge, Steve Strait and Kathryn Werdahl—including the assumption that if Armstrong is ultimately disqualified that the governor will get to pick a replacement. The state notes that under the election contest, a judge could also order an entirely new election.
“If Ms. Armstrong wins but a court rules in an election contest that she is not qualified, it will have broad discretion to fashion an appropriate remedy, including the authority to order the Division to re-certify the election for the runner-up candidate or to order a new election,” argues the state. “The result would not be that the governor would appoint a representative for House District 16.”
Republican attorney Stacey Stone, who is representing the four plaintiffs, responded in a filing on Friday that the case isn’t an election challenge but rather a challenge under the Alaska Constitution’s eligibility clause that should be able tobe heard at any time. She also argues against the need to file an election contest, which would require 10 people or a losing candidate to file.
“This is not an election contest, this is a challenge to Intervenor’s constitutional qualifications to sit as a member of the state legislature,” Stone argues in the plaintiffs’ filing, later adding, “It would also be in the interest of judicial economy to allow for adjudication without having to also possibly contest the election.”
In closing, Stone reiterates the claim that the governor would be left to decide who holds the seat (where he would be limited to selecting a Democrat who could get approval from other legislators).
“There exists a very real risk that Intervenor – a person who is not constitutionally qualified to sit in the state legislature – will win an election, will have that election certified, and will be sworn-in,” the filing argues. “To the voters of House District 16, this is a great and irreparable harm which will most likely force the voters of said house district to cede their power to choose their own member of the state house to the governor.”
A reply from the Division of Elections and Armstrong’s legal team is due before the judge will be able to rule on the motion to dismiss.