Alaska Supreme Court rules to allow independents to run in Democratic primaries

By Sandra Lane | Sep 6, 2018

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Legal Newsline) – The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of a superior court on Aug. 24 to allow registered independent voters to run for political office on the Democratic Party ticket in primary elections.

The state of Alaska had filed suit against the Democratic Party to prevent such an event from occurring. The state's First Judicial District Superior Court had already ruled in favor of allowing independents to run in the Democratic primary. After that decision, the state filed an appeal with the Alaska Supreme Court.

“Because the Alaska Constitution’s free association guarantee protects a political party’s choice to open its primary elections to independent voter candidates, and because in this specific context the state has no countervailing need to enforce the party affiliation rule, we affirm the Superior Court’s decision,” Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote.

After the 2016 elections, the Alaska Democratic Party decided to amend its rules, allowing independents to run for office in Democratic primaries. The reasoning behind this action was to offer a broader field of candidates and appeal to a more diverse section of voters.

However, the Alaska Public Offices Commission objected to this saying that Alaska election law prevented anyone not registered as a Democrat from being a candidate in the Democratic Party’s primary elections. It cited the party affiliation rule as basis for this ruling. After that, the Democratic Party filed suit to obtain authorization to put independents on its primary ballots.

The Superior Court, as quoted in its ruling, said, “The Democratic Party has an associational right under the Alaska Constitution to allow independent candidates to run in its primary election and that the party affiliation rule severely burdens this right by infringing on the Democratic Party’s internal decision-making."

The Superior Court also stated "that the state had not demonstrated how its interest in political stability was advanced by the party affiliation rule," according to the ruling.

This ruling was upheld by the Alaska Supreme Court as announced by Winfree. Other members of the Supreme Court reviewing the case included Justices Craig Stowers, Peter Maassen, Joel Bolger and Susan Carney.

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