Legal challenge of limited access to absentee ballots gains supporters

A lawsuit challenging a decision to limit access to absentee ballots for the upcoming August primary and general election in November is gaining supporters.

Alaska Community Action on Toxics, the Alaska Center Education Fund and Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii filed a motion in Anchorage on Tuesday, July 28, to join as intervenors in a lawsuit filed on July 17 in federal district court by attorney Scott Kendall on behalf of the Disability Law Center, Native Peoples Action and Alaska Public Interest Research Group.

The groups are seeking an injunction to require the state of Alaska to send absentee ballot applications to all qualified voters, regardless of age, for both the primary and general elections of 2020. Alaska Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer had ruled earlier that the absentee ballot applications should go only to registered Alaskans who are 65 years or older.

Challengers of Meyer’s decision say that the conduct of safe elections is especially critical during the novel coronavirus pandemic and in light of recent spikes in coronavirus cases in Alaska, which have soared into triple digits.

“The lieutenant governor’s decision effectively suppresses voter participation among our young people, Alaska Native communities and people with disabilities,” said Vi Waghiyi, a member of the Native Village of Savoonga Tribe, and environmental health and justice program director at Alaska Community Action on Toxics. “We must ensure that everyone has equal access and means to participate in safe and secure voting. It couldn’t be more important than during this pandemic,” she said.

Polly Carr, executive director of the Alaska Center Education Fund, called Meyer’s decision “an attempt to manipulate our elections,” and contended that “the result will be a severely compromised democracy.”
Jessica Cler, state director for Planned Parenthood, called Meyer’s decision “blatant and discriminatory voter suppression” that fails to provide equal access to voting for Black, indigenous and People of Color communities, young people, LGBTQ people, those with disabilities and with low incomes who would face additional hurdles to voting.

The groups also noted that 77 percent of Alaska voters who are 65 and older are white, compared with 23 percent of Alaska Natives and American Indians, Black Asian and Pacific Islanders combined.