Plaintiffs appeal judge’s rejection of request to mail absentee ballot applications to every Alaska voter

I voted sticker
Secrecy folders for ballots and “I Voted” stickers at a polling place in the State Office Building for early and absentee voting, Aug. 15, 2016. On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Joshua Kindred rejected a request to require the state Division of Elections to mail absentee ballot applications to every Alaska voter. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

A federal judge rejected a request to require the Alaska Division of Elections to send absentee ballot applications to every voter. 

A group of plaintiffs filed the lawsuit after the division sent applications to all voters 65 and older. They asked U.S. District Court Judge Joshua Kindred to require that all voters be mailed the applications. 

But Kindred denied the request on Thursday. He wrote that the plaintiffs hadn’t persuaded him that a preliminary injunction would be in the public interest. He also wrote that they hadn’t shown they were likely to prove that limiting the automatic mailing of applications based on voters’ ages violated the U.S. Constitution. 

The plaintiffs are the Disability Law Center of Alaska, Native Peoples Action Community Fund, Alaska Public Interest Research Group and two individuals, Aleija Stover and Camille Rose Nelson.

The plaintiffs have appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 

Scott Kendall, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said he’s disappointed in the ruling. 

“His decision, we believe, is erroneously based in the idea that you can favor one group of voters over another,” Kendall said. “His decision seems based in the fact that, as long as you don’t take away voting rights, you can give special access to any group.”

The original lawsuit sought to have the state send applications to every voter. But the appeal will be more narrowly tailored. It will seek to have applications mailed to more than 30,000 Alaskans who don’t have state-issued identification required to apply for an absentee ballot online. In addition, the plaintiffs want applications mailed to roughly 100,000 people without reliable internet access. Kendall says those voters could be identified by ZIP codes with less reliable access. 

Kendall noted that the state plans to email every Alaskan who registered for permanent fund dividends using the state’s myAlaska web portal with information on how to apply to vote absentee. 

“We think that kind of narrows the gap of outreach, but there are these other uniquely situated voters that either, by lack of internet or lack of ID, simply can’t use that system,” Kendall said. 

Every Alaska voter’s household will receive one absentee ballot application in the election pamphlet mailed three weeks before the election. But Kendall said this isn’t the same as the applications mailed separately to voters 65 or older earlier this year. That’s because the pamphlet doesn’t come with a return envelope. Pamphlet recipients might not notice the application. And there’s only one application in the pamphlet for every household. 

Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh said the state is pleased with Kindred’s ruling. She said the Division of Elections made the decision that it wasn’t necessary to send an application to every voter. 

“Our primary concern is to allow it to focus its capacity on running the elections as best it can, given the additional complexities created by the pandemic,” she said.

Paton-Walsh said there are several different ways voters can apply to vote absentee, including online. Having more people apply online will make it easier for the division to process the paper applications. 

 

 

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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