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Public Statements

Acting Attorney General Issues Opinion on Requirement for a Public Vote for Legislative Vacancies

Press Release

Location: Juneau, AK


Acting Attorney General Rick Svobodny has issued a legal analysis of whether a formal public vote by legislators is required for confirmation or rejection of governor's nominee to fill a vacant seat in the House or Senate. Svobodny and the Department of Law carefully reviewed the law, history and other relevant information before issuing an opinion with the following findings:

• The Alaska Constitution requires legislative action to take place in a meeting that has been publicly noticed as to time and location.

• The meetings at which the governor's appointments of two candidates were considered were not legally noticed.

• The meetings did not comply with the longstanding opinions of the Department of Law.

• The meetings did not comply with Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure, which the legislature has adopted under Rule 55(a) of the Uniform Rules of the Alaska Legislature.

• Confirmation votes must take place in open session before the public.

"The issue underlying this opinion represents a matter of great importance: the public's right to know how the legislature conducts itself when it comes to voting on replacing a vacant legislative seat," Svobodny said. "Rather than relying solely on resolution of the issues in a court someday, this opinion provides guidance for legislators in the performance of a very important duty."

Controversy over the traditional method of voting in secret arose when the governor forwarded the names of two candidates to fill the Senate seat left vacant by Kim Elton. Both nominees were turned down in consecutive secret ballots. The vacant seat was eventually filled by former Juneau Mayor Dennis Egan.

"It is important for future legislators to be clear about the law," Governor Palin said. "We have done the research, and it has been determined that a public vote is required to accept or reject the governor's nomination. Former Attorney General Wayne Anthony Ross was correct in his interpretation. This should be the standard from now on."

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