Elections Division says Ward resides in Nikiski

Posted: Sunday, July 07, 2002

KENAI (AP) -- Incumbent state Sen. Jerry Ward is a resident of Nikiski and the new Alaska Senate District Q and therefore eligible to run in the Aug. 27 Republican Party primary, the director of the Alaska Division of Elections ruled Wednesday.

Ronald Johnson, a Kenai real estate broker, filed a complaint with the division in early June seeking Ward's removal from the primary ballot. He claimed Ward really lived in an upscale Anchorage house, not in the Nikiski trailer Ward said he purchased in May 2001 to establish residency on the peninsula.

Election 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 told the Peninsula Clarion. ''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.

According to state law, ''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 Anchorage does not 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 was 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.

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 to continue representing his peninsula constituents.

He purchased his 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.

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.

After hearing of the decision, 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.

Johnson had only a brief reaction.

''I've got 66 pages of information,'' Johnson said. ''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 appeal the decision in Alaska Superior Court.

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