October 30, 2010
The seven page ruling comes with conditions, including leaving out the candidate's party affiliation. Ballots cast by voters who see the list will also now not be segregated from other ballots.
The key part of the justice's finding states only voters in actual need of the list will be able to view it. The justices' findings stated that they recognized a myriad of reasons why a qualified voter in Alaska may require assistance casting a write-in ballot. Some voters require assistance for medical difficulties or conditions that make spelling or memory recall difficult. Some voters suffer from learning disabilities that interfere with word retrieval, such as aphasia and dyslexia. Some voters may need assistance remembering or spelling the name of a candidate due to conditions impacting their memory or comprehension, including stroke victims who may have word retrieval problems. Other qualified voters may need assistance spelling the name of a candidate for a variety of reasons, including language barriers. Providing the proper spelling of names written in English could assist those voters who want to vote for a particular candidate and need assistance in ensuring that they write the candidate's name correctly.
The Court decided the Division of Elections may provide the list only when its use is tailored to address a voter's request for specific assistance. There will be circumstances where providing the list will not be necessary to address a voter's request for assistance and other circumstances where providing the list will be necessary to address a voter's request for assistance. For example, if a voter requested the correct spelling of a specified registered write-in candidate's name, it would be unnecessary to provide the entire list to that voter in order to provide the requested spelling assistance.
The justices agreed with the Alaska Democratic Party and the Alaska Republican Party that providing information about a write-in candidate's party affiliation is prohibited because part affiliation is "information regarding" a write-in candidate that is not necessary to address a voter's request for assistance. Thus the justices reiterated their previous order that the "write-in candidate list" shall not include any information other than the write-in candidates names.
The Supreme Court's ruling late Friday comes after a day of arguments from the state Democratic and Republican Parties who had both sued the State of Alaska. Party officials argued the list promoted political favoritism, especially for write-in candidate and sitting United States Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
In the end, the Supreme Court justices agreed with the State's Division of Elections, stating polling place workers are required by law to help any voter in need.
Hearing the case were Justice Dana Fabe, Justice Daniel E. Winfree, Justice Morgan Christen, and Justice Craig Stowers.
"We are very disappointed with this decision," Alaska Democratic Party Chair Patti Higgins said in a statement. "Our lawsuit was in response to the DOE's hasty and unprecedented actions in creating a write-in list for the first time in Alaska's history. We are very concerned about continued election abuses, given this court order."
Murkowski's campaign manager Kevin Sweeney said in a statement, “We have always maintained that the Division of Elections was following the law by providing lists for those who asked for assistance. The bottom line is it should be easier for Alaskans to vote, not harder, and this decision makes that possible. We are pleased that the Supreme Court has taken all uncertainty out of the process because voters now know their votes will be counted. No vote will be segregated because a voter wanted to exercise their right to submit a write-in vote for Lisa Murkowski. Alaskan voters who need and seek assistance will now be guaranteed that assistance required by the law.”
As of Thursday, the number of write-in candidates for Alaska's U.S. Senate seat had grown from a handful to around 160 due to efforts by conservatives to target the write-in candidacy of Senator Lisa Murkowski. The write-in list could still grow as Division of Elections officials process more filers' paperwork.
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