Judge rejects plea to stop two-ballot primary

Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2000

An Anchorage Superior Court judge made quick work of an effort to block the state's plans for this year's primary election.

During a hearing Wednesday, Judge Eric Sanders said he wouldn't stop the state from going forward with a two-ballot primary on Aug. 22.

``He said the state wins, you lose,'' said Michael O'Callaghan, the Anchorage resident who brought the request. ``He (the judge) just did a quick handoff to the (Alaska) Supreme Court.

The next step for O'Callaghan is the state's highest court. He said he doesn't have a clue about when a ruling might come on the issue.

Neither did Jim Baldwin, state assistant attorney general. He said the judge wanted to move the issue to the higher court.

``I think his idea was that it was a question of law that would need to be decided by the Supreme Court,'' he said.

O'Callaghan objects to the primary system proposed by Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer. He considers Ulmer's plan -- which will add nearly $400,000 to the cost of the election -- to be illegal based on prior court rulings.

Ulmer issued regulations altering the primary after Republicans demanded a two-ballot approach.

This year, Alaska primary voters will have two ballots to pick from. One will list GOP candidates. It will be available to undeclared, nonpartisan and Republican voters, categories that include three-quarters of Alaska's voters. The other ballot will list candidates from all other political parties. It can be used by anyone.

Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer issued emergency regulations making the change following a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that California's blanket primary was unconstitutional because it forced political parties to affiliate with voters not affiliated with them. That primary, like Alaska's, had one ballot with all the candidates from all parties listed for the voters to choose from. The court found that to be a violation of a First Amendment protection of free association.

Such a primary is legal if political parties don't object. In Alaska, the Republican Party demanded a change. In Washington state, which also has a California-style primary, Democrats are doing the same thing.

Virginia Breeze, spokeswoman for the Division of Elections, said the ballots have been sent to the printers. Letters are going out to Alaska voters who requested absentee ballots to explain what's happened, she said. Also, the U.S. Department of Justice has been asked to approve the state's primary, which Breeze said should happen without a fuss.

``We are moving steadily along,'' she said.

Anyone with questions can find information on at the division's home on the Internet, accessible through Hot Links at juneauempire.com.

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