Homer city council upholds election of contested council member

Oct 28, 2019

Credit City of Homer

The Homer City Council on Monday voted to keep Storm Hansen-Cavasos on the council, finding that claims that she was not an eligible candidate for the seat because she was not a city resident for a year prior to the election were unfounded.

In a vote of 4-1, the council found that the preponderance of the evidence presented in the investigation supported Hansen-Cavasos’ claim that she was a resident of Homer for a year prior the election date.

During the deliberation, Councilmember Heath Smith was the lone voice against a resolution. Among the points he made against a proposed motion to sustain the certification of Hansen-Cavasos’ election was the fact that she listed her Fritz Creek address on her 2019 permanent fund dividend application, as well as those of her children.

"Intent is one thing that it talks about, but it also talks about plausibility, it talks about the  facts," Smith said. "And, you know, we have to base our decisions on facts. We cannot say, because she claimed so, it is so. We have to have some facts that back up her claimed intent.”

Others on the council disagreed, however, and noted that as a first a first-class city, Homer’s election code takes precedence over the state election code.

"I believe that those who brought this issue forward did so with all intent and honesty and wanting to bring forward a concern that they had based on their observations," said Councilmember Donna Aderhold.  "And I also don’t believe that anything Councilmember Hansen-Cavasos has said actually refutes anything anybody else has said other than did she consider that location her residence.  To me, what it comes down to is what does she consider her residence and where did she spend the preponderance of her time.  For me, when I read through the evidence, it is that she was spending the preponderance of her time on Mission Road, until she moved to Rangeview, for the last year."

In the investigation report, the investigation team noted that Hansen-Cavasos testified under oath that she resided at either her mother’s house on Mission Road or at a rented home on Rangeview Drive since June of 2018. Former council member Tom Stroozas, who contested her election eligibility, submitted affidavits and documents asserting that Hansen-Cavasos rented a home in Fritz Creek and used that home during the relevant time period. Those facts are not disputed, the investigation said, nor was the fact that she registered to vote at the Fritz Creek address and used the address when applying for her 2019 PFD.

In the investigation, it was noted the Alaska Supreme Court holds a higher standard to sustain a post-election contest than that of a pre-election challenge of eligibility.

Due to the public interest in governance stability and the finality of election result, the Alaska courts hold that “every reasonable presumption will be indulged in favor of the validity of an election,” the report noted.

The more stringent burden of proof for contesting an election serves to discourage parties from mounting post-election challenges just because they are displeased with the results of a given election, the investigation noted.

However, the Alaska state code also says that for the purposes of determining a voter’s residence, “The address of a voter as it appears on the official voter registration record is presumptive evidence of the person’s voting residence.”

Hansen-Cavasos, a lifelong resident of the Homer area who won election to city council over incumbent Shelly Erickson by seven votes, stated under oath that much of the confusion over her official residence stemmed from the sensitive nature of her separation from her husband, information she didn’t readily share with co-workers and neighbors in the Fritz Creek neighborhood where the couple had lived prior to the separation.

Stroozas has 10 days to appeal the ruling to the superior court.