Alaska Justices Clear Way for Signature-Gathering in Bid to Recall Governor

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CN) – The Alaska Supreme Court on Friday lifted the pause on a second round of signature-gathering required to recall Governor Mike Dunleavy from office and set oral arguments on the legality of the recall for March 25.

“Happy Valentine’s Day to Alaska! Petition booklets will soon be distributed across Alaska and all qualified, registered Alaskan voters can make their plan to sign again and bring two friends,” Meda DeWitt, chair of Recall Dunleavy, said in a statement.

Recall Dunleavy
Protesters unfurl a banner as Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a roadshow with Americans for Prosperity in 49th State Brewing Company in Anchorage, Alaska. (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News via AP, File)

The ruling reversed an Alaska Superior Court order delaying publication of petition booklets by Alaska’s Division of Elections after a group opposing the recall, Stand Tall with Mike, argued that if the Supreme Court throws out one or more of the four stated reasons for recalling the governor, it could challenge previously gathered signatures because there would be no way to tell whether someone backed the recall for a disallowed reason.

In its two-page order, the Supreme Court said the lower court failed to consider the possible harm faced by the Recall Dunleavy group if signature-gathering is delayed.

“The statutes governing recall elections impose certain deadlines apparently intended to ensure an expedited process,” the court wrote. “The loss of several months of signature-gathering in this process is at least a ‘not inconsiderable’ injury.”

The court also said it made sense to lift the pause, imposed by Anchorage Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth, because recall opponents did not show a likelihood of success in their fight of the recall. Incidentally, it was Aarseth who also initially ruled prior to the hold that the Division of Elections incorrectly rejected the recall effort and originally directed the division to distribute petition books no later than Feb. 10.

“The recall process is fundamentally a political process. This is not an issue for the judicial branch to decide whether the governor should stay in office or not. This is a question for the voters, and the [Alaska] constitution makes that very clear,” Aarseth wrote on Jan 10.

Recall Dunleavy must collect the signatures of at least 71,252 registered Alaska voters to force a recall vote. If the Supreme Court finds the recall campaign is legal, any election would take place 60 to 90 days after the Division of Elections confirms enough signatures have been gathered.

“The Division of Elections awaits subsequent notice regarding the briefing schedule for appeal. The Division is prepared to proceed according to the Order issued by the Alaska Supreme Court lifting stay pending appeal,” state attorney general Kevin Clarkson said in a statement.

Division of Elections director Gail Fenumiai said it would take about a week to print the official signature booklets, which will occur as soon as the Department of Law notifies the division.

According to the schedule set by the justices, attorneys for Stand Tall With Mike and Recall Dunleavy will exchange written arguments through the end of the month and into March. If the Supreme Court rules promptly, that could allow a special recall election – a straight up or down vote – before Alaska’s primary election Aug. 18. Recall supporters had hoped to expedite the hearing schedule to allow a recall vote as early as April, while opponents wanted to delay the schedule so the vote could coincide with the November general election.

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