February 23, 2016

CONTACT: Jake Hamburg (907) 258-3077

ANCHORAGE: The Alaska Democratic Party filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s recent decision to deny independent candidates access to the party’s Primary ballot. In January, the Party adopted a rule change that allows candidates not affiliated with a political party to run in the 2016 Democratic Primary. In a letter last week declining to implement the party’s rule change, the Lieutenant Governor deemed this matter “something for a court to decide.”

“It’s disappointing the State declined to support our Constitutional right to determine our own internal processes and participants in our Primary,” said Casey Steinau, chair of the Alaska Democratic Party. “It’s clear we have a Constitutional right to allow independents, who can already vote in our Primary, to compete for our endorsement in the Democratic Primary, and to give voters more choices.”

The party’s suit was filed late Monday in Superior Court in Juneau seeking to declare unconstitutional a state statute requiring that a candidate be registered as a member of the political party whose nomination is being sought in a Primary.

Article I of the Alaska Constitution and the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution guarantee the right of freedom of association for the advancement of political objectives.

A US Supreme Court ruling established a political party’s Constitutional right to freedom of association. In the 1986 Tashjian v. Republican Party case, the high Court said that a state law prohibiting a Party from nominating non-members would infringe on the members’ right, under the First Amendment, to organize with like-minded citizens in support of common political goals.

Currently, those candidates unaffiliated with a political party may only run by petition in the General Election and do not have the option to appear on a Primary ballot. The Alaska Democratic Party bylaws have historically allowed any registered voter, regardless of party affiliation, to vote in the party’s open primary ballot unlike the Republican Party, which has a closed Primary. This change invites more people to participate and could provide more choices for voters. It is with the support of independents that Alaska Democrats and progressive-backed Independents have won elections from the municipal to the statewide level.