EXPERT WITNESS ALSO BILLING THE DEFENSE CANDIDATE FOR CAMPAIGN MANAGEMENT
Closing arguments in the case of Nageak vs. Mallott, also known as the “District 40 Election Law Mauling,” were made this afternoon. But not before the attorney for defense-side candidate Dean Westlake called his expert witness.
That expert witness, it turned out, was Westlake’s very own campaign manager, who took the stand and, under oath, and proceeded to list his unique qualifications as an expert: He is 26 years old. He graduated from Whitman College in 2012 and moved to Alaska from Andover, Mass., and for four years and four months he has worked in Alaska politics, mainly running campaigns.
Heckendorn became the political director for the Alaska Democrats. He now owns his own campaign consultancy, Ship Creek Group. He interned for Mark Begich. He took calculus and statistics in college and taught himself Excel.
He was, in fact, John Henry Heckendorn, the force behind Westlake’s rise to beat Rep. Ben Nageak by eight votes. The race is now subject to a judge’s decision about whether it’s yielded a valid result, given the multiple instances where election workers flouted the law, or whether there needs to be a do-over.
Heckendorn’s 54 months of campaigning qualified him in the eyes of the court as an expert witness. Of course, he first had to get to court. Heckendorn very nearly did not make the trial because he was defending a speeding ticket in traffic court nearby.
When he did arrive, he whipped out a spreadsheet he had built that showed how hard he and his fellow campaign consultants had worked on the Westlake race and how he believed they had won fair and square. They got started early on the Westlake campaign, pursued video, Facebook, and digital media buys. They hired a plane and flew Westlake into Shungnak not once but twice. They did yard signs. They worked that race like no other, raised and spent a lot of money on it. And that’s why the results should count.
That was the Heckendorn defense: We know we won because we know how hard we worked.
As the expert witness, the mop-topped politico also stated that Sen. Lisa Murkowski didn’t put up much of a campaign effort in District 40, so the people who came out to vote were doing so for the state House race, which pitted Democrat Nageak of Barrow against Democrat Westlake of Kotzebue.
In his analysis, Heckendorn stated that no one was motivated to come out and vote for Murkowski. With such heavy hitters as Westlake and Nageak as candidates on the Democratic ticket, why would anyone ask for a Republican ballot?
The case is in court because in various parts of District 40, voters were told to vote both the Republican ballot and the ADL ballot — the Alaska Independence Party, Democrats, and Libertarian ballot.
That way they could vote in every race. In other parts of the districts, numerous irregularities occurred, enough to possibly sway the vote.
It’s against the law to vote more than one ballot. It always has been.
Tim McKeever, the attorney for plaintiff Rep. Ben Nageak, asked Heckendorn about that spreadsheet in his hand. On cross examination, McKeever asked Heckendorn to explain some of the numbers.
Heckendorn admitted that his key sum had been entered in error — numbers were transposed. It was a mistake, but it was still right, he said, because it proved a point.
McKeever then asked the expert witness if he remembered what happened back in 2010. That would have been when Heckendorn was a sophomore in college, and his memory of the Lisa Murkowski-Joe Miller match up may have been more theoretical, since he had not yet been to Alaska.
McKeever asked the expert witness if he was using the preliminary numbers in his spreadsheet, or were they the certified numbers. Heckendorn seemed unsure. They were recent numbers, that’s all he knew.
Later, during closing arguments, McKeever pointed out to the judge that the expert witness who had been brought in by Westlake was not aware that in rural Alaska, the federal races are exceedingly important. In rural Alaska, they ask for the “Murkowski ballot,” as it’s known. That’s because so much of their lives are governed by the feds.
“They live in a federal sea. The implications of decisions made at the federal level are more meaningful to them,” he said, referring to fish, game, tribal, and land issues.
The curiosity of having a campaign manager for one side of a contest serve as the expert witness was not lost on observers. One said: “This is like if Lisa Murkowski went up on the stand and then they brought in Scott Kendall as an expert witness in the case.” Kendall is a campaign consultant for Murkowski.
Heckendorn explained in great detail how hard his team had worked on turnout because that was the key to winning, he said. He could not explain, then, why fewer people voted in 2016 than in 2014 in the District 40 area, other than to say that there were no ballot initiatives at play during the Aug. 16 primary.
At the end of the State’s final arguments defending the faulty election results, Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh finally dropped the race card. She said that to have a new election in District 40 would mean that Native voters in Shungnak were disenfranchised.
It was a Hail Mary pass, to be sure, because even the most elementary observer could deduce that if some villages in District 40 got to vote two ballots, while others were held to the law, then the true disenfranchised voters were everyone else outside of Shungnak and a couple of other villages. Native or otherwise, those who only got to vote one ballot are already aggrieved in this case, and it’s remarkable the State of Alaska would not rise to defend them.
Judge Andrew Guidi said his decision would come no later than Oct. 6. The case will likely also be heard at the Alaska Supreme Court on Oct. 12.