Alaska Supreme Court Approves Write-In Lists

The Alaska Supreme Court has approved the state providing a list of certified write-in candidates to voters who ask for help.

Alaska Lisa Murkowski Write-in

Doug already pointed this out in the comments section of the “Trouble For Joe Miller In Alaska?” thread but it’s worth a quick posting of its own: “Alaska Supreme Court reverses ban on write-in candidate lists.”

Hours after a judge blocked the Alaska Division of Elections’ effort to give voters lists of write-in candidates, the state Supreme Court stayed his ruling, providing a boost for the campaign of incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

The lists can be shown to voters who request them, the high court ruled, but candidates’ party affiliation must be removed.

The court also directed the Division of Elections to attempt to segregate absentee ballots cast by voters who have seen the lists — an apparent preparation for legal fights over whether those ballots can be counted. The court ordered briefs by Thursday on whether its stay should be permanent.


Earlier in the day, Superior Court Judge Frank A. Pfiffner rejected the state’s argument that providing a list of certified write-in candidates to voters who ask for help complies with the state’s obligation to aid citizens who need assistance casting ballots.

“If it were important ‘assistance’ for the division to provide voters with lists of write-in candidates, then the division has been asleep at the switch for the past 50 years. The division first developed the need for a write-in candidate list 12 days ago,” the judge wrote in his order.

The judge found that distributing the lists violated a state elections regulation prohibiting dissemination of information about candidates within 200 feet of all polling places.

IANAL but this strikes me as a truly bizarre notion.  By there very nature, write-in candidates are not on the ballot and should have zero aid from the state.  The idea that the taxpayer would provide “a list of certified write-in candidates” makes no sense.

The Secretary of State’s earlier statements that he would accept misspellings of “Lisa Murkowski” so long as the voter intent was clear strikes me, on the other hand, as perfectly legitimate.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, Law and the Courts, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. mantis says:

    What does “certified” mean here? How does one become a “certified write-in candidate?”

  2. Matt D says:

    At least they’ve guaranteed that the Alaska senate election will take longer to finalize than Franken/Coleman. That’s an upside, right?

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Mantis: Good question. Presumably, there’s a distinction to be made from candidates who are known to be running and others. “Lisa Murkowski” is easy — she’s a sitting senator with an unusual name. But what if it were reversed and “Joe Miller” was running as a write-in candidate? Without some official recognition that this particular Joe Miller was a candidate, it would be easy to challenge any votes as “How do we know they meant him? It might be a vote for one of 50 other Joe Millers in Alaska.”

    Matt D: Doubtful. My guess is that Miller wins, in which case any challenges will be moot.

  4. Matt D says:

    James: Really? This is one of the races where I have the least confidence. Too much time on the Fark Politics tab, I suppose.

  5. sam says:

    “this strikes me as a truly bizarre notion”

    Yeah, if you think about for a moment, a write-in candidate is someone whose name is not printed on the ballot. But now you can have a printed list of such candidates in your hand as you vote. So, the distinction now seems to be merely spatial: a name is on the ballot or on the paper in your hand.