Case challenging Alaska’s new ranked-choice election system heard in court

Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 9:06 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska’s new voter-approved election system is drawing strong opposition from several plaintiffs, including the Alaskan Independence Party and individuals who have taken the challenges to court.

“The provisions of proposition two places several severe limitations on the first amendment associational rights of the Alaskan political parties, political groups and voters,” said Kenneth Jacobus, who is among those filing the lawsuit challenging the system.

“Rank-choice voting allows those voters who vote for the loser to have their second choice votes counted for a different candidate in the second round — while those voters who did not vote for the loser are not allowed to change for subsequent rounds, even if they desire to do so, and have a perfectly valid reason for doing it,” he said.

However, Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh argues against Jacobus’s claims, and says the initiative as passed by voters does not violate constitutional rights, and that the root of the claims in this case is opposition to Ballot Measure 2 as a matter of policy. She also says it’s simply not true that parties are forced to accept candidates they might not want.

“The candidates are candidates registered for the election, separately,” she said. “Parties can select their own nominees, back their own nominees, endorse candidates, provide campaign support for their own candidates, (and) they’re not required to do anything by ballot measure two — therefore there’s no forcing of candidates upon the political parties.”

Attorney Scott Kendall, who is part of the group behind the initiative, also argued against Jacobus’s claims.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has specifically said where if you have a completely open primary ballot, and you simply rank those finishers in order, that’s perfectly permissible — and that’s exactly the way Ballot Measure 2 is designed, and exactly the way it will function,” he said.

However, Jacobus stands by his claims that Ballot Measure 2 is unconstitutional, and he says he expects the case to go to the Alaska Supreme Court.

“By the enactment of proposition two, a very slim majority of Alaskans voted to take away the constitutional rights of free political association from all the voters and political parties of all of Alaska,” Jacobus said.

At Monday’s court hearing, Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller did not make a decision in the case. Changes under the initiative passed last November, and are set to take effect in next year’s election.

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