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Fight over write-in lists in Alaska race heads to federal court

Lawsuits aim to stop candidates' names from being provided to voters, which is key to the hopes of incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who lost the GOP primary to Tea Party Express-backed Joe Miller.

October 30, 2010|By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Seattle — The fight over whether Alaska voters will be offered lists of write-in candidates for U.S. Senate moved Saturday to federal court, where former conservative talk show host Eddie Burke and four other citizens said handing out the lists violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

The lists could provide a crucial aid for incumbent Lisa Murkowski, who launched a write-in campaign to hold on to her seat after Tea Party Express-backed candidate Joe Miller defeated her in the August primary.

The state high court has ruled that the lists could be offered to voters who specifically ask for the kind of help in casting their vote that a list of candidates would provide. No party affiliation can be included.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage by Anchorage attorney Kevin Clarkson, a frequent conservative commentator who has been critical of Murkowski, alleges that it is a violation of federal law to distribute the lists without approval from the U.S. Justice Department.

The Justice Department signed off on an earlier version of the lists, but not as modified by the Alaska Supreme Court, Clarkson said in an interview.

"It's not that the Alaska Supreme Court did anything wrong. They didn't. But because the procedure is new and different, it has to be pre-cleared by the Department of Justice before it can be used," he said.

The complaint makes it clear the plaintiffs are also unhappy that the Division of Elections may not have to provide the full list of 161 write-in candidates now certified to run for Senate. Those numbers were boosted significantly when conservative commentators urged Alaska citizens to file last-minute write-in candidacies to flood the list.

"The court's order contemplates the provision of some form of partial list (perhaps with only the name 'Lisa Murkowski' on it) based upon nothing more than the Division [of Elections] personnel discretion in interpreting a voter's question," the suit complains.

The plaintiffs, one of whom is a native Aleut-Tlingit, also allege that federal law requires provision of voting assistance to Native Alaskans in their own languages. Burke, another plaintiff, ran this year for lieutenant governor and lost in the Republican primary.

Clarkson said he hopes that on Monday the federal court will hear the request for a temporary restraining order barring use of the lists.

Kim.murphy@latimes.com

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