Fight against primary fails

State's high court rejects attempt to sue over primary changes

Posted: Monday, July 03, 2000

Efforts to sue the state over a planned changed in this year's primary election appear to have fallen short for want of a good lawyer.

Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer's decision to change the Alaska's primary in response to last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision over the blanket primary system has spurred a group -- Alaskan Voters for an Open Primary -- to go to court to prevent changing it.

On Friday, the group tried to get the Alaska Supreme Court to block Ulmer's decision to allow for a two-ballot election for the Aug. 22 state primary. The high court turned the group down, saying it would not review its decision on a case that would address the issue, according to Rep. Sharon Cissna, an Anchorage Democrat and co-chairwoman of the group.

Cissna said the group was willing to try to stop the revisions to the primary on the grounds Ulmer lacked the authority to alter the primary. That's the Legislature's job, she said. But, she said, with the holiday weekend, there doesn't seem to be enough time left to get an experienced attorney to file the necessary papers.

Ulmer set Wednesday as the deadline for getting the two ballots to the printers.

``The problem is, we haven't got the body to do it,'' Cissna said today. ``It doesn't matter really. We'd have to file today, or maybe, drop dead, Wednesday morning.''

Jim Baldwin, assistant attorney general, said it appears that no matter what Ulmer does, there'll be some effort to get a judge to rule on the primary. The Republican Party of Alaska had threatened to sue the state if the changes -- from a blanket primary to a modified closed party -- weren't made.

Baldwin said it will be difficult for the group to get a restraining order on the primary because of the printing deadline. Also, he said, the state feels it has to make the change.

``Our strategy is that we really feel like we can't ignore the (U.S.) Supreme Court's decision,'' he said. ``We have to do this now, we think.''

The U.S. Supreme Court decided California's blanket primary was unconstitutional because it forced political parties to include voters not affiliated with them. The court found that to be a violation of a First Amendment protection of free association.

The ruling didn't conclude that all blanket primaries were unconstitutional. Rather, the court said that if a blanket primary runs afoul of the wishes of a political party, the state must make the change. Alaska's GOP wants a modified closed primary, while other state parties have not asked for one.

Under Ulmer's order, there'll be a modified closed primary this year. Under that system, there will be two ballots. One -- listing GOP candidates -- will be available to undeclared, nonpartisan and Republican voters. The other will be available to voters who are undeclared, nonpartisan or are aligned with another political party in Alaska, such as Democratic or Green.

The change, Ulmer said, will cost the state $400,000.

Voters will choose at their polling place. Voters can change affiliation at any time before they cast their ballot for the primary.

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