[The AK Supreme Court has put a stay on the Superior Court Judge's order. For now. See important update at bottom of article.]
As we've been suggesting in our two previous articles on the issue, the Alaska Division of Election's unprecedented move to supply printed lists of write-in candidates to polling places, purportedly to "assist" voters seeking help, violates state election procedures.
A judge today ruled in favor of the Alaska Democratic Party (ADP), as well as the state Republicans who joined the suit, by issuing a temporary restraining order finding the DoE's practice a "clear violation of Alaska administrative regulation."
We covered the issue over the weekend when it first came up, as letters went back and forth between the ADP, who charged the procedure amounted to "electioneering" inside the polling place, and the DoE, who claimed they were required by state and federal law to provide such assistance to voters.
We covered it again last night, when the DoE responded to our public records request for previous lists of printed write-in candidates by denying the request, since, as DoE Director Gail Fenumiai wrote, "The requested records do not exist."
State Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner agreed that the state's argument "rings hollow", noting, "If it were important 'assistance' for the division to provide voters with lists of write-in candidates, then the division has been asleep at the switch for the past 50 years. The division first developed the need for a write-in candidate list 12 days ago."
The ruling comes as a blow to incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who tossed her hat into the ring as a write-in candidate after her primary loss to the GOP's Joe Miller. Along with Democratic nominee Scott McAdams, a fierce three-way battle has ensued for the open U.S. Senate seat from Alaska. Although it's unclear what leg they have to stand on, the state has said they will appeal Pfiffner's decision ordering the immediate removal of the printed list of "certified" write-in candidates from polling places across the state. The judge also ruled that pollworkers may not mention Murkowski's, or any write-in candidate's name, to voters.
As reported by Erika Bolstad in today's Anchorage Daily News...
State Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner's order not only keeps the state from providing the list but also forbids poll workers from providing to voters the names of any write-in candidates.
The state said it will appeal the decision to the Alaska Supreme Court.
The Division of Elections has been providing early voters who ask for assistance a list of all write-in candidates, and in one case actually posted the list at an early-voting location in Homer. The division had argued that it drew up the list because it anticipated an unusual number of questions about Sen. Lisa Murkowski's write-in bid. The Alaska Democratic Party sued the state, asking it to drop the list at polling places, and the Alaska Republican Party joined the suit.
Both political parties said the lists, which have been distributed to polling places statewide, are a considerable change from the state's previous write-in practices. It directly violated a state regulation that forbids allowing any information about write-in candidates at the polling place or within 200 feet of its entrance, the judge noted.
Whether the state is successful on appeal or not, the election itself could well become a nightmare of legal wrangling for the good folks of Alaska, as they wrestle with the state's oft-failed, unreliable Diebold optical-scan system, and what seems to be a lack of specific rules about what constitutes a legal write-in vote, as The BRAD BLOG detailed in August after Murkowski announced her intentions.
Between the lousy electronic scanners, and the lack of clear rules prior to the beginning of counting, it all sounds like a recipe for disaster to us.
As we told Shannyn Moore, blogger and radio host on KUDO up there at the end of our on-air conversation about today's ruling, "Good luck, Alaska!" Have a feeling they're gonna need it.
UPDATE 10/28/10: Late last night, rather incredibly, actually, the AK Supremes have temporarily stayed the Superior Court's order until they decide on a full, likely expedited, hearing on the issue. According to the Alaska Dispatch...
The Supreme Court's order (PDF) does say that the list cannot include the candidate's party affiliation or any other information, however, and also calls for the segregation of all ballots cast by voters provided with the list of write-in candidates.
The plaintiffs have until 3 p.m. Thursday to file a brief on whether the Alaska Supreme Court should take up the suit.