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Alaska Supreme Court reverses ban on write-in candidate lists [Updated]

The court says the state Division of Elections can provide the write-in candidate lists to voters who need help at the polls, a ruling that could benefit incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

October 27, 2010|By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Seattle — Hours after a judge blocked the Alaska Division of Elections' effort to give voters lists of write-in candidates, the state Supreme Court stayed his ruling, providing a boost for the campaign of incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

The lists can be shown to voters who request them, the high court ruled, but candidates' party affiliation must be removed.

The court also directed the Division of Elections to attempt to segregate absentee ballots cast by voters who have seen the lists -- an apparent preparation for legal fights over whether those ballots can be counted. The court ordered briefs by Thursday on whether its stay should be permanent.

The issue is crucial for Murkowski, who launched a write-in campaign to keep her seat after Tea Party Express-backed candidate Joe Miller defeated her in the August Republican primary.

Earlier in the day, Superior Court Judge Frank A. Pfiffner rejected the state's argument that providing a list of certified write-in candidates to voters who ask for help complies with the state's obligation to aid citizens who need assistance casting ballots.

"If it were important 'assistance' for the division to provide voters with lists of write-in candidates, then the division has been asleep at the switch for the past 50 years. The division first developed the need for a write-in candidate list 12 days ago," the judge wrote in his order.

The judge found that distributing the lists violated a state elections regulation prohibiting dissemination of information about candidates within 200 feet of all polling places.

The state Republican and Democratic parties had teamed up to seek the ban, but Murkowski's campaign, joined by the Alaska Federation of Natives, is supporting the state in attempting to distribute the lists.

[Updated at 8:45 p.m.: "This stay will ensure that Alaskans can continue to get that assistance they're entitled to under the law," said Kristin Pugh Bundy, a spokeswoman for the Murkowski campaign.

Jason Smith, deputy general counsel for Democrat Scott McAdams' campaign, said the former Sitka mayor's backers are hopeful the Supreme Court will act quickly to consider the full merits of the appeal.

"We are confident that the initial ruling by the Superior Court judge is soundly based in law … and we are confident the [restraining order] will be upheld and enforced, and that Alaska will have a fair and open election based on the law," Smith said.

McAdams' backers have no current plans to challenge absentee ballots cast by voters who were given access to the write-in lists, he said.

"This litigation has been forward-looking and prospective, and we want to make sure that the regulations are followed. We are not looking in hindsight, as to what happened to any write-in votes up to now," he said.]

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