Ruling: If Alaskans fail to sign the envelopes of their absentee ballots this year, they won’t have a chance to fix it

People at the Alaska Division of Elections double-check voter information on August 25, 2020 in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)
People at the Alaska Division of Elections double-check voter information on August 25, 2020 in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

If Alaskans fail to sign the envelopes of their absentee ballots this year, they won’t have a chance to fix it, under a court ruling issued on Thursday.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Andrew Guidi rejected a request that the state quickly notify voters if they fail to sign or provide identifying information on their mailed ballots. He said that wouldn’t follow state law.

“I don’t believe the court has any more wisdom and, you know, probably less than the elected representatives of the citizens of the state,” who wrote the law, Guidi said.

The Alaska Center Education Fund, Alaska Public Interest Research Group and Sitka resident Floyd Tomkins sued last week, seeking to block the state Division of Elections from enforcing the law requiring signatures and personal identifiers without giving voters a chance to fix their mistake before the election results are certified.

But Guidi said there was nothing in state law that requires a chance to fix these mistakes. The law gives the division 60 days after votes are certified to notify voters that their ballots weren’t counted.

Kevin Feldis, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, noted that roughly 500 voters have not had their votes counted in previous elections because they didn’t fill out the envelopes correctly. He argued that people in the same position this year will be irreparably harmed and disenfranchised if the state doesn’t notify them of the problem in time for them to fix it.

“What is a legitimate state interest in preventing voters from voting?” Feldis asked, before providing his own answer: “There is none.”

He also noted that Anchorage and Juneau allow voters to fix errors in municipal elections.

More than twice as many Alaskans have requested mail-in ballots than in any previous election. Voters have until Oct. 24 to apply for an absentee ballot.

Assistant Attorney General Lael Harrison said the plaintiffs failed to provide the details that would have been needed for Guidi to rule in their favor. She said they wanted Guidi to write a new law, which is the Legislature’s job.

“The requirement that’s on the books is justified by the state’s needs to prevent fraud and ensure an orderly and efficient election,” she said. “Now, the plaintiffs may have some good policy arguments for why a different system would be a good idea. But those policy arguments are for the Legislature, they’re not for this court.”

Guidi rejected the argument that the way the state would apply the law would disenfranchise voters.

“Ultimately, if a voter fails to comply with those requirements, it’s the voter who disenfranchises him or herself, not the state,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Alaska Center didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request on whether the organization would consider appealing Guidi’s ruling.

The ruling was only on the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, not on the full lawsuit, which may take months to resolve.

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