Judge won't halt state's primary plan

Posted: Thursday, July 20, 2000

ANCHORAGE -- A state Superior Court judge refused to issue an injunction Wednesday against the state's plan to restrict primary voting.

Judge Eric Sanders ruled from the bench so plaintiff Michael O'Callaghan could quickly file an appeal with the Alaska Supreme Court. O'Callaghan said he planned to file an appeal today.

State officials decided to issue two ballots for the Aug. 22 primary to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month that found blanket primaries like Alaska's were unconstitutional. Under the blanket primary system, voters can vote for any candidate regardless of their party affiliation.

The justices said political parties have a right to close their primaries if they wish. Forcing them to let nonparty members vote violates a party's First Amendment right of association, the court said in a California case.

Facing the threat of a lawsuit from the Republican Party of Alaska unless the state restricted voting in its primary, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer signed an emergency regulation splitting candidates into two ballots -- Republican and all other. Voters must choose one or the other. Anyone may choose the all-other ballot. Only registered Republicans and people not registered in any other party -- about 75 percent of Alaska voters -- may choose the Republican ballot.

O'Callaghan sought an injunction to bar the two-ballot primary, saying such a restriction has been found unlawful by the Alaska Supreme Court.

Assistant Attorney General Jim Baldwin argued, and the judge agreed, that restricting the Republican primary as requested by party officials is ``a limited and rational approach.''

While acknowledging that the state system has to be changed eventually, O'Callaghan argued it doesn't have to happen this year.

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