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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
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AK Dems Fight to Get Independents on Ballot

JUNEAU, Alaska (CN) - Alaska Democrats sued the state over a law barring candidates for statewide office who aren't affiliated with the Democratic Party from appearing on the party's primary ballot.

In January, the Alaska Democratic Party adopted a rule change that allows candidates not affiliated with a political party to run in the 2016 Democratic Primary. But the rule changes runs afoul of Alaska state election law, which requires candidates be "registered to vote as a member of the political party whose nomination is being sought."

Alaska Democrats sued the state in Juneau Superior Court, claiming the election law violates the First and 14th Amendment rights to freely associate in the advancement of political objectives.

"Plaintiff has decided that it wants to allow independent candidates who are not registered members of the Alaska Democratic Party to participate as candidates in its primary elections," the 5-page complaint says.

"Alaska law unconstitutionally burdens plaintiff's associational right to determine who may participate in its primary elections by limiting primary candidates to registered members of the Alaska Democratic Party."

Lieutenant Gov. Byron Mallot, a Democrat, declined in a letter to implement the party's rule change, writing "it's up to courts to decide whether a law is ultimately constitutional."

The party's lawsuit asks the court to do just that.

"It's disappointing the state declined to support our Constitutional right to determine our own internal processes and participants in our primary," Casey Steinau, chair of the Alaska Democratic Party, said in a statement. "It's clear we have a Constitutional right to allow independents, who can already vote in our primary, to compete for our endorsement in the Democratic primary, and to give voters more choices."

The party's bylaws have historically allowed any registered voter, regardless of party affiliation, to vote in the party's open-primary ballot. The Republican Party has a closed primary.

"This change invites more people to participate and could provide more choices for voters," the Democrats said in a statement. "It is with the support of independents that Alaska Democrats and progressive-backed independents have won elections from the municipal to the statewide level."

Currently, only one of the state's legislators, Rep. Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan, is unaffiliated with a party. He caucuses with minority House Democrats.

During the 2014 gubernatorial race, current Gov. Bill Walker changed his party affiliation from Republican to undeclared to join forces with Mallott. Mallott abandoned his own gubernatorial bid to be Walker's running mate, the ticket won the support of the Democratic Party, and Walker and Mallott won the election.

Undeclared or nonpartisan Alaskans make up the largest voting bloc in the Last Frontier. Alaska's Republican Party has nearly double the number of registered voters Democrats have, according to Division of Elections statistics.

The Democrats' rule change - and the contested piece of election code - only affect statewide races and the primary, which will be held in August. Alaska Republicans will hold their presidential caucus on March 1, followed by the Democrats' caucus on March 26.

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