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Alaska Supreme Court to hear write-in case Friday (Updated)

From Erika Bolstad in Anchorage --

The Alaska Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Friday in the fight over whether the state Division of Elections can offer voters a list of certified write-in candidates at the polls.

After a lower court blocked the lists from polls Wednesday, the Supreme Court made the decision later in the day to allow a modified version. It blocked the lower court ruling from taking effect while the high court further considers an appeal.

"At issue is a list containing nothing more than the names of all certified write-in candidates," the state Division of Elections wrote in its petition to have the case heard by the Supreme Court. "This list is not posted or otherwise displayed at polling places. The Division's aim in providing this list was to minimize disruption in the polling place that would result from conversations between poll workers and voters regarding write-in candidates."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski and the Alaska Federation of Native have joined the state in its fight to keep the lists at the polls; the list could benefit her candidacy by giving voters a reference tool for her write-in bid.

But the court will have a new wrinkle to address Friday. Egged on by radio talk show host Dan Fagan, dozens of people crowded into the Division of Elections offices in Anchorage on Thursday to submit their own names as write-in candidates – an effort to make the list as long and cumbersome as possible. Thursday was the deadline to be a certified write-in candidate.

The Alaska Democratic Party and the Alaska Republican Party joined forces this week in court seeking to keep the list out of voting places. They thought they'd won the case Wednesday morning when the lower court judge told the state Division of Elections to remove the list from voting places statewide. Democrats first complained about the list when a voter in Juneau noticed it had been posted in an early voting location.

The Supreme Court's stop-gap decision issued Wednesday allows voters at early voting sites to see the lists – but only if they say they need help and want to be shown a list of write-in candidates. The lists, however, can't include the party affiliation of the certified write-in candidates. The court also ordered the state to segregate the ballots of those voters who cast votes after they asked for assistance.

The Division of Elections said it would be able to segregate those ballots until Election Day. But when the polls open on Nov. 2, the state said it is "not feasible" to do so. They fear it will upset voters and cause confusion and a reluctance to ask for assistance. So far, an estimated 63 voters asked for assistance out of the 10,000 who've cast votes.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments at 10:30 a.m. Friday morning.

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