Former Trump Interior official Tara Sweeney at the memorial for Rep. Don Young at Anchorage Baptist Temple on April 2, 2022. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

Republican Tara Sweeney’s campaign does not plan to sue over a finding released by Alaska elections officials that Sweeney cannot advance to the special election for U.S. House following the withdrawal of another candidate, Sweeney’s campaign manager said Wednesday.

“We made the decision that this is not a candidate fight,” Sweeney campaign manager Karina Waller said in an interview. “This is on the ranked choice voting procedures that the voters approved, and … this is not our fight.”

Independent Al Gross placed third in the June 11 special primary, behind two Republicans — former Gov. Sarah Palin and businessman Nick Begich — and ahead of Democrat Mary Peltola, a former state lawmaker. Gross, an orthopedic surgeon, was positioned to advance to the August special election as one of the top four vote-getters under a new open primary system. But late Monday, he suddenly announced plans to end his campaign.

Sweeney finished fifth in the vote count, completed Tuesday. State elections officials aim to certify the results by Saturday.

RELATED: Alaska elections official says 5th place finisher can’t fill vacancy on US House ballot. Sweeney campaign disagrees.

Gail Fenumiai, director of the Division of Elections, cited the timing of Gross’ withdrawal in saying that state law does not permit the fifth-place candidate to advance to the special election. Gross withdrew Tuesday, and because the withdrawal occurred less than 64 days before the election, the law does not allow the division to put the fifth-place finisher from the special primary on the special election ballot in his place, she said.

Fenumiai said the division would remove Gross’ name from the special election ballot.

She outlined the division’s position in a letter to an attorney for Begich’s campaign, which had sought clarification on the process.

Fenumiai said anyone who disagrees with the decisions should sue immediately. She said the division needs a final determination from the courts by Tuesday to print ballots and keep the special election on track.

Kim Reitmeier, president of ANCSA Regional Association, which represents leaders of regional Alaska Native corporations, released a statement Wednesday on behalf of the third-party group the association set up to support Sweeney’s candidacy.

“At present we are reviewing this dynamic situation, but at this time we have no plans to sue the Division of Elections,” she said.

Sweeney served as an assistant secretary of Indian Affairs in the U.S. Interior Department during the Trump administration. She also was previously an executive with Arctic Slope Regional Corp.

Begich’s campaign manager, Truman Reed, in a statement said the law “must be strictly adhered to” and that Begich campaign agrees with the Division of Election’s determination.

The Palin and Peltola campaigns did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

RELATED: As last ballots arrive in Alaska’s special US House primary, Peltola inches upward

This was the first election under a system approved by Alaska voters that ends party primaries and institutes ranked voting for general elections.

The special election will feature ranked voting and determine who will serve out the late Republican Rep. Don Young’s term. Young, who held the seat for 49 years, died in March.

The August regular primary and November general election will determine who will serve a new, two-year term, starting in January.

Waller said the Sweeney campaign has not made a final decision on whether to pursue a run in the regular primary.

The withdrawal deadline for that primary is Saturday. Several candidates have dropped out, including Gross and Republicans John Coghill and Josh Revak. Democrat Christopher Constant’s campaign last week said he intended to withdraw.

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Becky Bohrer – The Associated Press
2022-06-22 19:42:45
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