Alaska Superior Court Judge Jennifer Henderson agreed to schedule oral arguments in an expedited case against the Municipality of Anchorage over whether Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson’s Assembly seat is vacant and should be filled at the April 6 election.
Judge Henderson held a video-conferenced hearing on Feb. 25 in which Darden and fellow plaintiff Nial Williams successfully urged her to expedite the case because the city plans to print and distribute roughly 13,000 ballots for the West Anchorage Assembly seat on March 15.
Williams is asked the judge to order the city to print Darden’s name as a candidate to fill Quinn-Davidson’s seat so that the city does not place a further burden on taxpayers by having to reprint all the ballots with Darden name on them. At the very least, he asked Henderson to prohibit the city from printing or mailing ballots until the merits of the case are decided.
Henderson did not grant the request but did make sure to schedule expidited oral arguments on March 10, and said she could make a final decision that same day.
Darden first filed to fill Quinn-Davidson’s seat on the Assembly on Jan. 29. He maintains that since Quinn-Davidson assumed the role of acting mayor on Oct. 23, 2020, her West Anchorage Assembly seat has been vacant since then because she cannot simultaneously hold two offices according to city code. He said that the lack of representation in West Anchorage violates city law which requires 11 Assembly seats. For four months there have only been 10 Assembly members.
The city, however, has not officially declared Quinn-Davidson’s seat vacant, and city Clerk Barbara Jones maintains that Darden’s declaration to file for the office is void because she never posted a vacancy for the West Anchorage seat.
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This spurred Darden to appeal to the Superior Court for intervention.
Representing the city, attorney Jessica Willoughby claimed it was too late to put Darden’s name on the ballot for April 6. She said the proper recourse (if there were vacancy) would be to hold a special election, which first requires the city to publicly post a vacancy 60 days before an election. Putting Darden’s name on the ballot now means he would be the only person to get “a bite at the apple,” she said.
Darden and Williams maintain that the city’s failure to post a vacancy notice is on them. It should have been done immediately and a special election should have taken place on or before Dec. 22, 2020. The fact that the clerk failed to do her job doesn’t mean Anchorage citizens should be deprived of proper representation on the Assembly, they argued.
“This is a very simple case,” Darden said at the Feb. 25 hearing. “This is just a request that I be placed on the ballot.”
Judge Henderson gave the city until March 4 to argue its side. Darden will respond the next day and oral arguments will occur March 10.