Anchorage Superior Court Judge Herman Walker today dismissed a lawsuit challenging whether Democratic candidate Jennie Armstrong met the residency requirement to run for a House seat in West Anchorage, finding that it was filed both too early and too late.
The dismissal comes at the request of the Division of Elections and Armstrong, who both argued that the lawsuit should have either been filed during the 10-day window following the filing deadline in June or in the 10-day window following the review of an election later this month through an election challenge.
Judge Walker agreed.
“As the Division correctly points out, Plaintiffs are contesting the election after one door has closed and another is not yet open; they do not bring their claim under any established means to challenge elections,” he wrote in his order dismissing the case. “Indeed, Plaintiffs raise contentious factual assertions that may invalidate Armstrong’s candidacy, but that is not for the court to decide at this stage.”
The Plaintiffs—a group of four Anchorage residents who have all contributed financially to Armstrong’s Republican opponent—have claimed their case rests solely on constitutional grounds, akin to an ongoing case challenging the eligibility of far-right Republican Rep. David Eastman and are asking the certification of the race to be put on hold while the issue plays out.
Walker noted key differences.
Namely, that the cases deal with entirely different parts of the Alaska Constitution with entirely different levels of enforcement. A major element of the Eastman case is the Division of Election’s lack of mechanism to enforce the state’s disloyalty clause, but there are two direct avenues to challenge a candidate’s residency requirements: a challenge after the filing deadline or after the election is completed.
Armstrong holds a 10-point lead over Republican Liz Vazquez, a difference of 737 votes, in the race for House District 16. Additional votes are set to be counted today.
What that means is the challenge—which is based on a handful of social media postings and fishing license applications that they say show Armstrong had not lived in Alaska for the full three years necessary to establish her residency when she filed—can still go forward once the election is finalized through an election contest.
Such a contest has a higher bar to be filed than the existing lawsuit. It would require either 10 residents or the losing candidate to file the challenge. Plaintiffs’ attorney Stacey Stone has first-hand experience with election challenges because she was the lead attorney in challenging Rep. Lance Pruitt’s 11-vote loss in 2020.
The outcome could also be less predictable than the disqualification the plaintiffs are seeking. If Armstrong is ultimately disqualified, Walker could award the election to Vazquez despite coming in a distance second place, allow the existing appointment process where the governor could fill the vacant seat with a person same political party who could get the approval of Democratic legislators or order a new election.