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State sticks with 2 ballots

Court knocks down attempt to change to one-ballot primary

Posted: Wednesday, July 26, 2000

The state's return to a two-ballot primary appears to be a done deal.

The Alaska Supreme Court on Tuesday shot down a legal bid to force the state to use a blanket primary this year. So, on Aug. 22, there will be a ballot for Republican candidates and another for every other candidate as ordered under emergency regulations from Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer.

In a blanket primary, all candidates of every political party are on the same ballot. Voters can pick who they want regardless of their party affiliation.

Virginia Breeze, spokeswoman for the Division of Elections, said ballots are printed and some will go out next week.

``The first absentee ballots will be mailed on Monday,'' she said. ``We're just proceeding as we usually do.''

Michael O'Callaghan, an Anchorage primary ballot watchdog, had sought to throw out Ulmer's regulations by arguing she didn't have the authority to change election rules with an emergency order. The Legislature, he said, is the only body that can do that.

Jim Baldwin, an Alaska assistant attorney general, said the state Supreme Court's denial of O'Callaghan's efforts won't be the last legal action over the state's primary system.

``I think there will be additional litigation,'' he said today.

That litigation will come from Alaskan Voters for an Open Primary. Max Gruenberg, the organization's attorney, said the suit will be aimed at forcing the Legislature to enact new election laws to cover the 2002 primary.

Ulmer's regulations are only in effect until October.

``What we're after is to see what we can do legally and constitutionally to re-establish an open (blanket) primary,'' Gruenberg said today. ``What we're planning to do, after the primary, is file a lawsuit. ... We want the Legislature to take care of the problem.''

The group, he said, would lobby lawmakers to install a blanket primary that fits the parameters outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year. That decision, based on the First Amendment rights of political parties to choose whom they associate with, led to Ulmer's emergency regulations changing Alaska's primary format after GOP officials threatened to sue for the change.

The lawsuit will contend that neither the executive nor the judicial branches of government have the authority to determine what kind of primary is held, Gruenberg said.

The lawsuit will be put off, he said, because the state does have to do something, and there's too little time to get a legislative solution in place for this year's primary.

The kind of primary coming this year was used in 1992 and 1994, when the state had a modified closed primary election at the request of the GOP. Then, Republican, nonpartisan and undeclared voters were allowed to pick among GOP candidates.

This year is the same, with voters registered as Democrats or members of another political party being excluded from voting on the Republican ballot. Voters can, however, change their party affiliation at any time.

Democratic candidates and those of other parties will be listed on a second ballot. GOP voters won't be able to cast those ballots.

The kind of primary coming for 2000 was thrown out by Alaska's Supreme Court in 1996 because it was found to conflict with existing state law.

Then, Alaska's blanket primary was reinstalled. Under that system, any registered voter could vote for any candidate of any political party all on one ballot.

The two-ballot primary, according to Ulmer, will cost the state an extra $400,000.



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