State Supreme Court rules legislator met residency requirement to serve

The Alaska Supreme Court has upheld the disputed residency eligibility of Anchorage Rep. Jennie Armstrong to serve in the Legislature.

In a decision issued Jan. 13, four days before the Legislature convened, three of the court’s justices voted 2-1 to uphold a lower-court decision in Armstrong’s favor on the residency question. The justices did not provide an immediate explanation for their decision; one will be published in the coming months.

The Supreme Court decision was the result of a lawsuit filed by Liz Vazquez, who lost to Armstrong by 10 percentage points in November’s general election, and four of her supporters. Citing social media posts and fishing license applications first publicized by the Alaska Landmine website, the suit asserted that Armstrong moved to Anchorage in June 2019, making Armstrong ineligible to serve.

The Alaska Constitution requires that a legislative candidate live in Alaska for three years before filing for office with the Alaska Division of Elections. If Armstrong had moved to the state after June 1, 2019, she would have lived here for less than three years and been ineligible for the 2022 ballot. Attorneys representing Vazquez asked that the election result be thrown out and Vazquez be declared the victor.

In a brief trial last month, Armstrong and her husband, Ben Kellie, testified that she resolved to move to Alaska in May 2019, during a romantic vacation here. She left the state briefly to gather personal belongings, then returned in early June. Counting May as the start of her residency made her eligible to run for office in 2022.

The intent to remain, argued Armstrong’s attorneys, took place in May 2019, when she decided to move to Kellie’s home in Anchorage.

Attorneys Stacey Stone, Richard Moses and Anna Cometa, representing Vazquez, argued for a different definition of residency. That law says someone establishes residency “by being physically present in the state with the intent to remain in the state indefinitely and to make a home in the state.”

A subsection of the law says in part that a person demonstrates the required intent “by maintaining a principal place of abode in the state for at least 30 days.”

Stone argued that the subsection means Armstrong’s residency didn’t begin until June, making her ineligible for office.

Attorney Laura Wolff, representing the state, said the Division of Elections relies on the residency definition used by Armstrong’s attorneys. The Supreme Court appeared to side with that argument as well.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


Reader Comments(0)