Being discounted by the Alaska Division of Elections isn’t stopping a Haines resident from running for office. William ‘Bill’ McCord is running a write-in campaign for the state representative seat currently occupied by Sam Kito III. Elections officials say he doesn’t qualify for candidacy. But McCord disagrees.
The Haines Libertarian decided to run for office when he saw that Rep. Kito was running unopposed.
“I just wanted to offer voters a legitimate choice,” McCord said.
He launched a write-in campaign more than a month ago. But recently, he received an email from Division of Elections Coordinator Sharon Forrest.
“He [has not lived] here for the required duration, which was three years,” Forrest said. “So we cannot certify it.”
Forrest says McCord does not qualify for candidacy because he hasn’t lived in Alaska for three years. The Alaska Constitution has that residency requirement for members of the legislature.
McCord doesn’t argue that he hasn’t been here three years. He moved to Haines about two and a half years ago. But he points to an Alaska Supreme Court case from 1994. In Peloza vs. Freas, the court ruled that a three-year residency requirement for Kenai city office-seekers was ‘unacceptably long.’
McCord thinks that case applies here.
“Well that’s where the big question comes in, and that’s what constitutes local?” McCord said. “How do we define local? My understanding of local is that if it’s not statewide, it’s local.”
In other words, McCord says since the seat he’s running for represents just a portion of the state, it should qualify under the 1994 court decision. House District 33 encompasses part of Juneau, along with Haines, Skagway, Klukwan, Gustavus and Excursion Inlet.
“District 33 in my mind is local, it’s not statewide,” McCord said.
That’s not the only bone McCord has to pick with the Division of Elections.
“I informed them that I would continue with my campaign, even though I wasn’t certified by them. And now they’re telling me they won’t count the votes.”
Elections Coordinator Forrest directed McCord to a section of Alaska Statute that says votes for a write-in candidate may not be counted unless that candidate has filed a letter of intent with the director.
McCord has filed a letter of intent. It just hasn’t been certified. He points out that the statute doesn’t explicitly say ‘certified’ letter of intent.
Forrest told McCord in an email that since his letter of intent can’t be certified, write-in votes for his name won’t be counted.
“It has to be certified, otherwise it’s not a valid filing,” Forrest said.
McCord thinks whatever the Division of Elections’ interpretation of his qualifications, they should still count residents’ votes.
“The voters of Alaska have the right to act like a jury. They can engage in what’s called jury nullification,” McCord said. “In other words, they can register their vote to show that they disagree with what the law requires.”
McCord plans to show up at a candidate forum in Juneau to continue his campaign. He’s also seeking legal advice, although he says he probably can’t afford to launch a legal challenge to the Division of Election’s decision.
Even if McCord was a certified candidate, Alaska Statute says write-ins must receive either the highest number of votes or be extremely close to the top vote-getter to even be counted.
McCord says he hopes voters won’t be discouraged by Elections officials disqualifying him from the race. He says no matter what they say, every vote counts.