202

Alaska court upholds Republican recount win in House race

Republican Bart LeBon of Fairbanks listens to a reporter's question after leaving the Alaska Supreme Court hearing room in Anchorage, Alaska, on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, where justices heard arguments in a lawsuit disputing his one-vote victory in a state House race. His challenger, Democrat Kathryn Dodge, is challenging the results of a recount that determined LeBon won the open Fairbanks seat. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska Supreme Court on Friday upheld the results of a recount in a disputed state House race that showed Republican Bart LeBon winning by one vote.

The court issued a brief order affirming the decision by Alaska’s former elections director following arguments earlier in the day in Anchorage. The court said a full opinion would follow.

A superior court judge who was appointed a special master in the case previously recommended that the court uphold the Division of Election’s decisions during the recount.

Democrat Kathryn Dodge challenged four ballots, questioning whether two voters whose ballots were counted lived in the district and saying the division incorrectly changed its record of one voter’s residence to an address outside the district.

She provided affidavits from voters in two of the instances to try to bolster her case. But the state argued that both were sent to the division director after the recount, and any evidence not available at the time of the recount should be disregarded.

The state changed the address of one man to an address outside the district based on his application for an annual check from the state’s oil-wealth fund. Voters in 2016 approved an initiative calling for the division to register qualified Alaskans to vote when they apply for a dividend check.

Justice Susan Carney noted the law requires that the division send out an opt-out notice, which she said it believes it sent. Thomas Amodio, an attorney for Dodge, said there was no proof that one was sent.

An attorney for the state, Katherine Demarest, said the division acted within the law.

LeBon will succeed Democratic Rep. Scott Kawasaki in the Fairbanks seat. Kawasaki was elected to the state Senate.

Dodge in a statement said she respects the court’s decision and has no regrets about pursuing the case to completion. She said every vote “was examined and ruled upon with careful consideration.” She wished LeBon well as he heads to Juneau for the start of the legislative session Jan. 15.

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, in a statement, said he was glad the court acted quickly “so that the incoming legislature can focus on fulfilling their duties to the people of Alaska.”

But it’s not clear how much of an impact the outcome will have as the House struggles to organize a majority.

Republicans claimed a fragile 21-member majority after the election, which included LeBon. But Republican Rep. Gary Knopp of Kenai, who was part of that group, later said he was leaving the GOP caucus in hopes of forging a bipartisan coalition to control the 40-member House.

He said Friday the outcome of the race did not change his position. He worried about the ability of a narrow majority to function well and said the parties need to work together.

The incoming House will have 23 Republicans. But two of those, Reps. Louise Stutes and Gabrielle LeDoux, caucused with Democrats the last two years and recently signed a letter with Democratic and independent colleagues from rural and coastal areas and indicated a desire to be part of some form of coalition.

Nonetheless, a statement congratulating LeBon from two members of the Republican caucus, Reps. Dave Talerico and Tammie Wilson, was released under an Alaska House majority banner.

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.