Alaska’s latest election lawsuit would give absentee voters a chance to fix mail-in ballot errors

A mail-in ballot for Juneau’s 2020 municipal election. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)
A mail-in ballot for Juneau’s 2020 municipal election. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

A lawsuit is seeking to give absentee voters in Alaska a chance to fix mail-in ballot errors that would prevent their votes from being counted.

The lawsuit was filed last week by the Alaska Center Education Fund, Alaska Public Interest Research Group and Sitka resident Floyd Tomkins.

While voters are able to fix ballot mistakes in some municipal elections, Alaska law doesn’t provide for a similar process. State law currently requires that voters be notified their ballots were rejected within 60 days of the election results being certified. This year, the target date for certifying the results is Nov. 25, so voters wouldn’t be notified until late January.

The lawsuit seeks to require the Division of Elections to notify voters their ballots were rejected because of a lack of signature or identifying information before the votes are certified, and to give them a chance to correct it. The filing also notes that there will be an unprecedented number of absentee ballots this year, and that inexperienced voters are more likely to have their ballots rejected because they made an error.

This is the latest in a series of election-related suits against the state’s Division of Elections. The Alaska Supreme Court ruled on Monday that voters won’t need to have witnesses for their absentee ballots. But they are still required to sign the absentee ballot envelopes and provide identifying information: either their voter number, driver’s license number, date of birth or the last four digits of their Social Security number.

In its response to the lawsuit, the state Department of Law argued that there’s no justification for the plaintiffs waiting until shortly before the election to challenge the constitutionality of a longstanding law. And while the plaintiffs said it would be straightforward to make the change, the state said it would be unreasonable to do so soon before the Nov. 3 election.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Andrew Guidi is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on Thursday morning.

Support critical access for all. Become a member today.