ANCHORAGE — Calling it a "clear violation of Alaska administrative regulation," a judge on Wednesday ordered the state Division of Elections to remove a list of certified write-in candidates from polling places statewide.
State Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner's order not only keeps the state from posting the list, but forbids poll workers from providing to voters the names of any write-in candidates.
The order is a blow for Sen. Lisa Murkowsi's write-in campaign, which had joined the state Division of Elections in fighting any efforts to do away with the list. Murkowski is taking on Republican Joe Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams in Tuesday's election.
The state Division of Elections has been providing early voters who ask for assistance a list of all write-in candidates, and in one case, had actually posted the list at an early-voting location in Homer. The Division had argued that they drew up the list because they anticipated an unusual number of questions about Sen. Lisa Murkowski's write-in bid. The Alaska Democratic Party sued the state, asking for them 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 in 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.
Pfiffner said that the Division's argument "rings hollow" in light of its past practices.
"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."
It's "a victory for democracy," said Patti Higgins, chairwoman of the Alaska Democratic Party.
"To me, this is, you've got an election and everybody knows how it's supposed to work," Higgins said. "They could change the law – there's a process for emergency regulations – and they just unilaterally decide they were going to do this. That's wrong."
The Alaska Republican Party, which joined Democrats in asking that the lists be removed, argued that the lists cheapen an established primary election process designed specifically to narrow the list of candidates. Murkowski, a fellow Republican who launched her write-in bid after losing the August primary to Miller, had drawn criticism from his supporters for saying before the primary that she would honor the decision of GOP voters and stand with the party nominee.
"The Alaska Republican Party is grateful to Judge Pfiffner for upholding the integrity of the voting process," said Kenneth Kirk, an attorney for the Alaska Republican Party. "It is our hope that the Division of Elections will accept this well-reasoned ruling and move on to more important things, rather than dragging this issue out with more litigation."