Lawsuit filed seeking to add Sweeney to ballot /Witness signature was leading cause for ballot rejections
The reasons for ballot rejections varied throughout the state.
Good afternoon, Alaska!
In this edition: A much-expected lawsuit has been filed challenging the Division of Elections’ decision to close the door on fifth-place finisher Tara Sweeney from taking the now-vacant fourth spot in the four-way general election for the U.S. House. It’s going to be a breakneck trial with ballots set to be finalized next week and, surprise, a preliminary decision has already been issued! Meanwhile, I spent the day digging through the state’s detailed breakdown of the reasons why more than 7,000 ballots were rejected in this election and have made plenty of charts. The witness signature requirement was the leading cause for rejections, particularly in rural Alaska and Anchorage (both areas with higher numbers of non-English speakers).
Current mood: 🔥
Lawsuit to add Sweeney to special general election filed, preliminary decision already issued
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 issued 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 (and I’m sure a post will be coming shortly), with the preliminary takeaway being that Judge Morse is inclined to side with the state’s position.
“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 Alaska Supreme Court is also expected.
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.”
Reasons for ballot rejections varied but witness signature requirement was the leading cause
The Division of Elections on Wednesday released a detailed breakdown of the ballot rejection numbers from the June 11 special election, revealing the reasons why 7,504 ballots were not counted and how those reasons varied by each House district (remember, they’re using the 2013 House districts and not the new ones). While the report is not finalized (certification is expected on Saturday), the leading cause for rejected ballots was the witness signature requirement—which returned this year after being put on hold for the 2020 general election (resulting in the lowest rejection rate on record)—with it accounting for more than a third of all rejected ballots in this election. The witness signature requirement accounted for 36.3% of rejections (2,724 ballots), arriving late or being postmarked after election day accounted for 25.6% of rejections (1,924 ballots) and lacking a voter identifier accounted for 20.7% of rejections (1,556 ballots).
The state report lists 16 different reasons why ballots were be rejected. Most accounted for fewer than a dozen rejected ballots each. The other big reasons worth highlighting are the voter identifier not matching what’s on file, which accounted for 9.3% of rejections (698 ballots), and not being signed by the voter, which accounted for 5.9% of rejections (443 ballots). In a more simplified breakdown:
Insufficient witness signature — 2,724 ballots (36.3%)
Arriving late or having a postmark after election day — 1,924 ballots (25.6%)
Lacking a voter identifier — 1,556 ballots (20.7%)
Voter identifier not matching what’s on file — 698 ballots (9.3%)
Lacking a voter signature — 443 ballots (5.9%)
All other reasons — 159 ballots (2.2%)
There were also 16 voters statewide who returned an empty envelope. Dang!
Analysis: Let’s look at the numbers
Just as the number of ballots rejected varied wildly from district to district—where rural Alaska saw a particularly high rate of rejections compared to the rest of the state—the reasons for rejections varied significantly from district to district.
Check the work: Find my breakdown of the complete report here.
The witness signature requirement was the leading cause of rejections in the rural Alaska districts that have been drawing much of the attention—HD37 to HD40—where it accounted for up to more than 50% of rejected ballots in those districts. In House District 38, the Bethel/Lower Kuskokwim district that saw one in six of all ballots cast by its voters rejected, the witness signature was responsible for 64.4% of rejected ballots (241 of 374 rejections). Interestingly, getting ballots in on time didn’t appear to be a problem for the rural Alaska districts with just 27 ballots rejected across those four districts for not having a postmark by election day.