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AK Judge Bars Distribution of Write-in Names

An Alaska judge on Wednesday granted a temporary restraining order stopping the state elections officials from handing out names of write-in candidates at polling places.

The ruling is a setback for the campaign of incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was defeated in the August GOP primary by tea party favorite Joe Miller and is mounting a write-in campaign. Former Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams is the Democrat in the race.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Frank A. Pfiffner said the division was in clear violation of an administrative regulation.

The regulation reads, "Information regarding a write-in candidate may not be discussed, exhibited, or provided at the polling place, or within 200 feet of any entrance to the polling place."

Pfiffner enjoined the Elections Division from allowing election workers and polling place workers to post write-in candidates, to provide a list of write-in candidate names to voters or to verbally provide the names of write-in candidates to voters.

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"The judge has clearly ruled that the law should be upheld, and Alaska voters deserve a fair and legal election," Patti Higgins, chairwoman of the Alaska Democratic Party, said in a statement. "The court's ruling ensures that the Division of Elections and the State of Alaska cannot give special treatment to any write-in candidate."

The Alaska Democratic Party sued Monday to stop the Elections Division from providing the information and the Republican Party of Alaska joined the lawsuit. They claimed the names would skew voting in favor of write-in candidates.

The Murkowski campaign had intervened in the lawsuit, arguing that election officials have a broad mandate to assist voters and the desire of voters in past court cases has trumped state rules.

At a hearing Monday, assistant attorney general Margaret Paton-Walsh said the Elections Division anticipated questions and the potential for an increase in assistance requests because of the high-profile write-in campaign.

Paton-Walsh said lists of write-in names were only intended as voter assistance and were not forms of advocacy. She said other states routinely post such information at polling places.

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