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Gross withdraws, leaving uncertainty about his spot in the special election
The big question now is just what happens to the Gross’ spot on the special election ballot. Will Sweeney, who finished in fifth place, get the nod?
Good morning, Alaska!
In this edition: After spending the last week hyper-focused on the absentee ballot rejections, the actual race for the U.S. House catapulted into the spotlight after a wave of withdrawals from the race that was capped off with the surprise announcement that independent candidate Al Gross, who finished in third place in the special, is ending his campaign altogether. Just what happens to his spot on the special election ballot isn’t entirely clear, but it could open the door for fifth-place finisher Republican Tara Sweeney to enter the race.
Al Gross calls it quits
While driving home from a very nice long weekend up in Fairbanks for the solstice weekend (observed), the race for U.S. House got a whole lot more interesting. Rumors and chatter quickly turned into an announcement that independent candidate Al Gross would be ending his campaign for the office altogether, withdrawing from both the special election and the regular election. With his third-place finish, strong fundraising and campaigning up through Friday, there’s certainly going to be more to the story, but for now there’s still plenty to unpack. In his statement, which gives no reason for his decision, Gross endorses both Democrat Mary Peltola and Republican Tara Sweeney… without naming either.
“It is with great hope for Alaska’s future that I have decided to end my campaign to become our state’s next Congressman,” he said. “There are two outstanding Alaska Native women in this race who would both serve our state well, and I encourage my supporters to stay engaged and consider giving their first-place vote to whichever of them best matches their own values. Thank you for your support.”
The announcement follows the withdrawals of every other Democrat save for Peltola in the general election—Christopher Constant, Mike Milligan and Adam Wool—to clear the way for Peltola in the general election. Alaska Native leader Emil Notti also officially conceded from the special election, endorsing Peltola. It’s unlikely that Gross has had any mending with the Alaska Democratic Party, which had called him a “proven loser” after he suggested caucusing with Republicans. Anyway.
The big question now is just what happens to the Gross’ spot on the special election ballot. Will Sweeney, who finished in fifth place, get the nod or will a slate of three candidates—Peltola and Republicans Nick Begich and Sarah Palin—advance to the ranked-choice special election on Aug. 16? It’s a question that doesn’t have a clear answer, yet, and the Division of Elections is in the process of reviewing the issue.
This is where the reforms in ballot Measure 2 come into play. Remember that prior to the initiative, special elections were driven by the political parties. They would have picked the candidates and we wouldn’t be having this open special primary. The Alaska Beacon’s James Brooks dug into the text of the initiative looking for an answer, this is what he found:
The text of Alaska’s Better Elections Initiative, better known as Ballot Measure 2, says the person who received the fifth-most votes advances if “a candidate nominated at the primary election dies, withdraws, resigns, becomes disqualified from holding office for which the candidate is nominated, or is certified as being incapacitated in the manner prescribed by this section after the primary election and 64 days or more before the general election.”
Monday was 57 days before the Aug. 16 special general election for U.S. House.
Attorney Scott Kendall, the key architect of the initiative, told the Beacon that the 64-day deadline applies only to the regular primary elections, not special elections, and he believes that the Department of Law analysis will results in Sweeney getting the spot. Worth adding to the conversation: There is language dealing with the special election and withdrawals—specifically the language that should be printed on election pamphlets—that contains exactly the same 64-day window BUT it doesn’t contain the same reference to the U.S. House, only state office or U.S. Senator:
“The four candidates who receive the most votes for a state office or United States senator will advance to the special election. However, if, after the special primary election and 64 days or more before the special election, one of the four candidates who received the most votes for a state office or United States senator at the primary election dies, withdraws, resigns, is disqualified, or is certified as incapacitated, the candidate who received the fifth most votes for the office will advance to the general election.”
Which is all to say, who really knows.
The reality is that this will likely play out like every other decision that has come out of the Division of Elections in the past four years: The Division of Elections, on the advice of the Department of Law, will do what it’s going to do and, depending on what that is, someone will sue, and the issue will ultimately be decided by the courts.
If the Division of Elections agrees with Kendall that the language should see Sweeney advancing to the general election, we might see a lawsuit from one of the three candidates seeking to block her from joining. If the Division of Elections argues that the window is already closed and Sweeney won’t be advancing, then the Sweeney campaign will likely be heading to court. And, hey, I know an attorney who might know a thing or two about Ballot Measure 2 and how it’s supposed to work.
It’s also here that I feel like it’s worth bringing up a few conversations I had about the rejected ballots over the weekend where the common question I got is: Why isn’t anyone suing over it? My answer is: If someone thought it would make a difference in the results, they would.
The ballot rejections likely won’t make a difference in the final rankings but the Division of Elections’ interpretation of how state law handles withdrawals in special elections certainly will.