4 file suit for more time on absentee ballots

Posted: Friday, August 23, 2002

ANCHORAGE - A Talkeetna homesteader and three other Alaskans filed suit Thursday seeking more time to receive and send in absentee ballots.

The public interest lawsuit was filed in Anchorage Superior Court on behalf of Judy M. Price and three others who said the window of opportunity for voting absentee is too narrow and that hazardous conditions prevent rural voters from picking up or mailing in ballots.

"If you're weathered in where you can't travel, you've been disenfranchised," said Valdez attorney Tim Cook, the lead attorney on the case.

The state Division of Elections had no comment on the suit.

Absentee ballots are mailed out about three weeks before the election.

The plaintiffs want the same time allowances as Alaskans who say they may be out of the country on Election Day. Those voters receive "special advance absentee ballots" sent out 60 days ahead of the election.

Cook said the plaintiffs in the past have been unable to obtain and return a regular absentee ballot within the allotted time frame.

Price lives 20 trail miles from Talkeetna, according to the lawsuit. Two years ago, according to her affidavit, dangerous freeze-up conditions prevented her from traveling to the Talkeetna post office to obtain the ballot until after the November 2000 election. She said it's likely the same thing could happen this year.

She said that she tried this year to obtain a special advance absentee ballot but was turned down.

Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, a Rampart Democrat, filed a bill in 2001 to allow special absentee ballots for rural voters, a bill supported by the Division of Elections. The bill died at the end of the session.

Plaintiff Denis Ransy lives 12 trail miles from Talkeetna and said in court documents that travel to his homestead can be dangerous until water bodies are securely frozen. Freezing temperatures usually begin in mid-October, he said, and on several occasions he has been unable to obtain his absentee ballot.

Attorneys asked for expedited proceedings so the lawsuit can be decided in time for the general election on Nov. 5. Cook said that should be possible.

"From a legal perspective, I don't believe there are any factual issues involved," he said.

The court action will not affect the primary next week.

"Our plaintiffs don't want to upset the process," Cook said.

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