ANCHORAGE - A panel of three federal judges has denied a request for an order that would have prevented mayor-elect Mark Begich from taking office.
The move means the U.S. Department of Justice will decide whether an Election Day charter change that lowered the percentage of votes needed to win the mayor's race was legal. All voting law changes in Alaska must be reviewed by the federal government.
The panel June 9 is scheduled to consider another issue in a lawsuit challenging the election. Attorney Ken Jacobus argues that not enough people voted in favor of the change.
Fifty-five percent of voters approved the voting change. Jacobus argues such changes fall under a section of the charter that requires a 60 percent voter approval.
On April 1, Begich took 45.06 percent of the votes cast in the mayor's race. Wuerch took just over 37 percent. The change approved by voters at the same time reduced the percentage the winner needed from 50 percent to 45 percent.
All voting changes in Anchorage must be reviewed by the federal government to ensure that they do not hurt the interests of minority voters. The city did not get the federal clearance before the April 1 election, but has since submitted the change to the Justice Department.
Jacobus argued that Begich should not be allowed to take office because the new procedure was not cleared ahead of time.
In denying Jacobus' request for an order, the three judges said he did not show that the interests of minority voters would be harmed if it were not issued.
A decision is expected from the Justice Department by June 14. If the agency rejects the change, enough time would remain for a runoff election before the new mayor is sworn in July 1, the judges wrote.
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