Residency decision results in lawsuit

Division of Elections director, state sued over Szymanski ruling

Posted: Friday, July 21, 2000

The Alaska Republican Party has filed a lawsuit in Kenai Superior Court demanding Democratic Senate candidate Mike Szymanski be barred from running in the Democratic primary election in Senate District E. Szymanski is hoping to unseat incumbent Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage.

The suit was filed Monday by Anchorage attorney Kenneth Jacobus on behalf of the Republican Party, Tommy Thomp-son, who is the chair of District 9 Republicans, and George Martin, a self-described Republican Party activist, of Soldotna. It alleges Szymanski is not fit to run in the Democratic primary because of questions about his residency.

Named as defendants are the state of Alaska, the Division of Elections, and its director, Janet Kowalski, of Juneau.

Kowalski issued a ruling earlier this month clearing the way for Szymanski to appear on the Aug. 22 primary ballot.

Martin asked Kowalski to disqualify Szymanski because he said he believed Szymanski had not been registered to vote at his current address long enough. Kowalski disagreed, but only ruled on whether Szymanski was a resident of Alaska. She did not address what election district he lived in.

Martin sent Kowalski more documents later in June supporting his claim that Szymanski was not a resident of District E, which encompasses House Districts 9 and 10 in Kenai, Nikiski and a portion of South Anchorage. But Kowalski said they arrived too late for her to review in a timely manner and ruled Szymanski could not be kept off of the primary ballot.

Virginia Breeze, a spokesperson at the Division of Elections in Juneau, said there was not much the director could say.

"The only comment she can make is it's in the courts now, and that's where we'll deal with it," Breeze said. "The Department of Law will have to review it."

Meanwhile, the candidate is just calling it politics as usual.

"I take this as the beginning of Jerry Ward and his operatives' technique of negative campaigning that they've used all along," Szymanski said. "There is no problem with my residency, and I go by what the Division of Elections says, not Jerry Ward.

"I guess it's flattering in some ways, because Jerry is feeling that I'm going to give him a hard time in the general election."

Martin, who initiated the campaign to disqualify Szymanski, is a financial supporter of Ward's, but said he supports many Republican candidates.

"I think Jerry is a good guy, a real nice guy," Martin said. "But I've sent money to many others."

For Ward's part, he sees no irony in the Republican Party getting involved in the Democratic primary, even in light of the Republicans demanding its own primary, which is closed to people registered in other parties.

"It doesn't got anything to do with parties, it's the law," Ward said. "It would be the same if an Alaska Independent or Green Party (member) broke the law."

Martin agreed.

"Here's the bottom line we're talking about: We have a situation where a man is changing addresses too late," he said. "The law is very specific."

Szymanski admits he voted in District 11 last September when the special election was held regarding use of excess Alaska Permanent Fund revenue. But the district he was registered in at that time was where his office was, in a home he owned but did not live in, he said. During Anchorage's mayoral election earlier this year, he said he voted in District 10, where the home he's lived in since December 1998 is. That home is owned by his partner, Sheelah Shelton.

Szymanski said he updated his voter registration card in January to reflect his residency in District 10.

"My understanding is (residency) is based on physical residence," Szymanski said. "I don't live at my mail box."

But Martin said the law requires a person be registered in an election district for one year to be eligible to run for office. He further asserts that Kowalski has ignored making a ruling on that issue.

Kowalski's ruling only addressed whether Szymanski was a resident of Alaska, not what election district in Anchorage he lived in.

Meanwhile, Martin said he plans to request an expedited ruling from Kenai Superior Court Judge Harold Brown, though Kowalski and the state has 40 days to respond to the complaint. If the state waits the maximum allowable time to respond, it will be three days after the primary.

In that case, the suit calls for Szymanski's votes to be declared invalid and the next highest vote-getter be declared the winner.

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