Trial begins in Nageak elections lawsuit

Attorneys for Rep. Benjamin Nageak began their campaign in court Tuesday as the Barrow Democrat challenges the results of the August primary election that saw him unseated by a Democratic challenger from northwest Alaska.

In an Anchorage courtroom, Nageak attorney Tim McKeever interrogated Division of Elections supervisor Josie Bahnke for several hours, beginning a trial that is expected to last until Monday.

That’s the deadline set by judge Andrew Guidi, who wants to confirm a winner in time to avoid interference with early voting for the Nov. 8 general election.

After a recount requested by Nageak, the Division of Elections confirmed Sept. 12 that Dean Westlake defeated Nageak on Election Day, 825 votes to 817.

Nageak responded with a lawsuit declaring “numerous errors have been made in the primary election recount for House District 40.”

“Voters in several precincts were improperly, illegally and unconstitutionally deprived of the primary ballot of their choice and the right to have elections properly conducted in accordance with state and federal law,” McKeever’s appeal states.

McKeever and Nageak face a tall task in convincing Guidi to alter the results of the election. To change the results, they must prove there was a mistake in the conduct of the election, that the mistake amounted to “malconduct, fraud, or corruption,” and that the malconduct changed the results of the election.

“It’s an extremely heavy burden on the plaintiffs here,” said Thomas Amodio, Westlake’s attorney.

At the end of the trial, Guidi may “pronounce judgement on which candidate was elected,” Alaska law states, or he may set the election aside and call for a new vote.

If a new vote takes place, Nageak and Westlake likely would rematch in the general election.

Much of the first day of the trial was spent establishing what Bahnke knew and when she knew it. McKeever brought up several mistakes by poll workers — forms not correctly signed, results not reported on time, and most critically, votes cast incorrectly.

In the community of Shugnak, for example, voters were permitted to cast both Republican and Democratic ballots — in effect voting twice.

“The issue is whether or not the election workers purposely disregarded a requirement” in violation of their training, McKeever said.

On Tuesday, McKeever seemed particularly interested in whether a poll worker in the town of Buckland went out and tried to get people to come to the polls to vote.

He also focused on Bahnke’s actions when she learned about problems in Shugnak. (Westlake and Nageak were both on the Democratic ballot, meaning the results were unlikely to change as a result of the double voting.)

“You understood that it was illegal for people to receive more than one ballot?” McKeever asked about Bahnke’s actions after Election Day.

“Yes,” she said.

“And you understood that 50 people … received more than one ballot?”

“Yes,” she said.

When Bahnke didn’t directly answer a question about whether she realized the Shugnak votes were more than the margin between the two candidates, McKeever’s questioning sharpened.

“But you understand math, right?” he asked.

The state will have a chance to question Bahnke when the trial resumes at 8:40 a.m. today in Anchorage.

According to court documents, McKeever plans to call 12 witnesses.

The state expects to call five, including Nageak.

More in News

House District 6 race gets 3rd candidate

Alana Greear filed a letter of intent to run on April 5

Kenai City Hall is seen on Feb. 20, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai water treatment plant project moves forward

The city will contract with Anchorage-based HDL Engineering Consultants for design and engineering of a new water treatment plant pumphouse

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
SoHi students walk out for school funding

The protest was in response to the veto of an education bill that would have increased school funding

The Kenai Courthouse as seen on Monday, July 3, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Clam Gulch resident convicted of 60 counts for sexual abuse of a minor

The conviction came at the end of a three-week trial at the Kenai Courthouse

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meets in Seward, Alaska, on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (screenshot)
Borough awards contract for replacement of Seward High School track

The project is part of a bond package that funds major deferred maintenance projects at 10 borough schools

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President LaDawn Druce, left, and committee Chair Jason Tauriainen, right, participate in the first meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Four Day School Week Ad Hoc Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
4-day school week committee talks purpose of potential change, possible calendar

The change could help curb costs on things like substitutes, according to district estimates

A studded tire is attached to a very cool car in the parking lot of the Peninsula Clarion in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Studded tire removal deadline extended

A 15-day extension was issued via emergency order for communities above the 60 degrees latitude line

A sign for Peninsula Community Health Services stands outside their facility in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
PCHS to pursue Nikiski expansion, moves to meet other community needs

PCHS is a private, nonprofit organization that provides access to health care to anyone in the community

Jordan Chilson votes in favor of an ordinance he sponsored seeking equitable access to baby changing tables during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna OKs ordinance seeking to increase access to baby changing tables

The ordinance requires all newly constructed or renovated city-owned and operated facilities to include changing tables installed in both men’s and women’s restrooms

Most Read