Press Release

Alaska Department of Law Challenges Constitutionality of Federal Control of Alaska Elections

June 21, 2012

Anchorage, Alaska – The State of Alaska has challenged the federal government’s authority to control Alaska’s elections. The state is opposing a recent lawsuit that seeks to enjoin preparations for the upcoming election until the federal government approves the state’s revised electoral map.

“The Constitution does not authorize the federal government to dictate every detail of our elections,” said Attorney General Michael Geraghty.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires that a handful of states, including Alaska, obtain approval, referred to as “pre-clearance,” by the U.S. Department of Justice before making any change to the state’s electoral process. The state argues that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional because it involves an extraordinary federal intrusion into the management of elections, a task the Constitution leaves to the states. The state also argues that Section 5 is unfair because it requires only some states, but not others, to receive federal permission for electoral changes.

“Under Section 5, if the state wants to move a polling place across the street, it has to get federal permission. If it wants to change the wording on a form, it has to get federal permission,” said Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell, who oversees the Alaska Division of Elections and is a defendant in the lawsuit. “This federal intrusion into our state elections is unnecessary, burdensome, and unconstitutional. Congress has no basis to micromanage Alaska’s elections. It’s time to get out from under this yoke.”

Attorney General Geraghty explained that the state’s constitutional challenge is narrow in scope.

“The state is not challenging the Voting Rights Act’s prohibition against discrimination in voting, nor is it challenging the state’s obligation under the Voting Rights Act to provide language assistance to voters,” said Geraghty. “Helping voters with limited English proficiency is important to ensure that everyone can exercise his or her right to vote.

“We are challenging only the portion of the law that forces Alaska to get federal permission before making any changes to its electoral process,” explained Geraghty.

The lawsuit seeks to halt the state’s implementation of the revised electoral map. The Alaska Redistricting Board revised the map to reflect changes in Alaska’s population shown by the 2010 census. In response to legal challenges, the Alaska Supreme Court ordered the redistricting board to revise the map again before the 2014 elections, but in order to avoid delaying this year’s elections, the court ordered the existing revised map to serve as the interim plan for the 2012 elections.

The redistricting board submitted the map for the Justice Department’s approval on May 25, but has yet to receive a response. In order to ensure that the primary election, scheduled for August 28, can be held on time, the Division of Elections has had to prepare using the revised map while federal approval is pending.

Earlier in the legal proceedings, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason denied the plaintiffs’ request to halt all election preparations. Now a three-judge panel will consider whether to grant the plaintiffs’ request. An oral argument is scheduled in Anchorage at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 28.

For more information on the case, please contact Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh at (907) 269-5100.

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