Fairbanks election lawsuit goes before Supreme Court

All three parties filed briefs and objections last Friday to a ruling on the lawsuit holding up Alaska’s House District 1 election. Two months after election day, the Alaska Supreme Court is scheduled to hear each party argue their points at an oral hearing this Friday morning, Jan. 4. In the meantime, the state House is at a standstill, unable to elect a speaker until a majority is decided.

The careful, persnickety points each party argues can be fascinating, or frustrating. Half the voters in this downtown Fairbanks district voted for each side. The race was certified as a tie between Democrat Kathryn Dodge and Republican Bart LeBon, until the Nov. 30 recount put LeBon one vote ahead.

Dodge filed a complaint to the Division of Elections on that day, challenging the way four ballots were counted. LeBon’s people joined with the Alaska Republican Party intervened shortly after, challenging six ballots.

In a six-and-a-half-hour hearing on Dec. 20, attorneys argued to Superior Court Judge Eric Arseth why the ballots should be counted differently. When it was over, Arseth let the count stand, saying new evidence could not be considered, the Division of Elections did the best it could with what was known at the time, and the state needs to move on.

Parties had a week to protest. And they did. Last Friday, Dodge, LeBon and the Division of Elections each filed briefs. Their basic arguments haven’t changed. But the candidates’ attorneys each found reasons Arseth’s ruling is in error, and want new evidence to be allowed.

If LeBon’s people get their way, he would get three more votes and Dodge would get one fewer. The Dodge campaign thinks she would gain two votes and LeBon would lose two if their arguments prevail. And the Division of Elections, now with a new administration, thinks the count should stay as it is.

All three will argue their points in front of the Supreme Court on Friday morning. Each party gets 20 minutes starting at 9 a.m. Since the Justices will have read everything before that, the time will mostly go to questions and answers.

It’s unlikely, but possible, for the Justices to rule on the case that very day. The clock has been ticking down to Jan. 15 opening day for the Alaska Legislature, which would like to know which party is holding the seat for District 1.

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