Incumbent Sen. Jerry Ward is indeed a resident of Nikiski and the new Alaska Senate District Q and therefore is eligible to run in the Aug. 27 Republican Party primary, the director of the Alaska Division of Elections ruled late Wednesday afternoon.
Ronald Johnson, a Kenai real estate broker, filed a complaint with the division in early June seeking Ward's removal from the primary ballot, alleging the candidate really lived in an upscale Anchorage house, not in the Nikiski trailer Ward said he purchased in May of 2001 in order to establish residency on the peninsula.
But division Director Janet Kowalski said the preponderance of evidence supported Ward's claim to residency in Nikiski.
"I am very pleased that the director has made this ruling," Ward said Wednesday evening shortly after learning of the decision. "We can now get on to the merits of the campaign."
Most critical to her conclusion that Ward lived where he said he did was Ward's voter registration, Kowalski said.
State statute provides that: "The address of a voter as it appears on an official voter registration card is presumptive evidence of the person's voting residence. This presumption is negated only by the voter notifying the director in writing of a change of voting residence."
Kowalski said Ward met the standard of the law because he is registered to vote in the new district. She also noted that Ward's candidate registration record and his declaration of candidacy indicate his residency is within District Q.
"By registering to vote at the Wik Road (Nikiski) address, and by declaring under oath that he resides there, Jerry Ward meets the standard of maintaining a residence in the district, despite the fact that he does business in Anchorage," she said.
Owning a business in Anchor-age doesn't create a presumption of residency there, Kowalski said. Even the time Ward might spend away from his Nikiski trailer pursuing his real estate business interests were not enough to negate his voter registration record, she said.
"Although Jerry Ward still owns a house in Anchorage and still maintains a business in Anchorage, there is nothing in the record to support the contention that he does not intend to remain in Nikiski," she said.
Ward said he not only registered to vote in the district, but cast ballots last fall at the Nikiski 1 Precinct.
Ward's current constituency comprises Senate District E, made up of Kenai, Nikiski, the northern Kenai Peninsula and parts of southern Anchorage, where his Anchorage home is.
But last year it became apparent that reapportionment was going to break up the old District E and likely shift its boundaries, breaking off the south Anchorage area. Ward said he decided to move his residence to the Kenai Peninsula in order to continue representing his peninsula constituents.
He purchased his Wik Road trailer and property last May in time to establish a one-year residency by the time the deadline for filing for office arrived June 1 of this year.
After an Alaska Supreme Court ruling that the initial attempt at drawing new House and Senate boundaries was flawed, the final lines were approved this spring. Ward's Nikiski home is well within the boundaries of the new Senate District Q, which includes Nikiski, Kenai and Soldotna and much of the peninsula between Stariski Creek and Hope.
Elated by the finding, Ward took a lighthearted jab at his Republican primary challengers, Joe Arness of Kenai and Raymond P. VinZant Sr. of Soldotna.
"Now the door is open for some of my Republican challengers to consider possibly running for the school board or the assembly, since they (the seats) are all going to be up this time," he said.
Ward declined any comment about Johnson.
Johnson only offered the following: "I've got 66 pages of information," he said late Wednesday. "It looks like we spent an awful lot of money and energy just to say no. Other than that, I have no comment."
Johnson has until Aug. 2 to file an appeal of the decision in Alaska Superior Court.
In another ruling this week, Kowalski determined that Republican incumbent Rep. Vic Kohring was eligible to seek re-election in the new House District 14. His residency also had been challenged. Kohring, of Wasilla, currently represents House District 26.
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