Alaska Supreme Court reaffirms decision leaving 5th-place finisher off U.S. House ballot

The Alaska Supreme Court hears arguments in a 2018 case. (Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Candidate Al Gross shook up last year’s special election for U.S. House when, citing personal reasons, he withdrew from the race in June. By then he was one of four candidates who’d won a spot on the special general ballot. The Alaska Division of Elections decided to remove him from the ballot but not to replace him.

Friday, the state Supreme Court confirmed that the Division of Elections was correct “because the Division properly applied a statutorily mandated 64-day time limit” for replacing a candidate’s name.

The court’s opinion isn’t a surprise and has no impact on the special election results, the first conducted under Alaska’s new ranked choice voting rules. That’s because the high court issued a bare-bones ruling in June to the same effect, allowing the special general election to take place in August with only three names on the ballot. The 30-page document is the justices’ effort to explain their reasoning for that call.

While they affirmed the division’s decision not to advance fifth-place finisher Tara Sweeney, the justices faulted the division for removing Gross’s name. A strict interpretation of the 64-day window would’ve required election officials to leave his name on the ballot, despite his withdrawal, the court said. It was slightly off point, since the voters who filed the legal challenge didn’t try to stop the removal of Gross’s name.

Mary Peltola ultimately won the special general. Her spot on the ballot wasn’t at stake in this lawsuit. She came in fourth place in the special primary, behind Gross and ahead of Sweeney. 

She went on to win the regular election, too, and now holds Alaska’s sole seat in the U.S. House.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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