Election reform initiative gets court victory but state vows appeal

PHOTO: Person filling out a ballot, Photo Date: August 15, 2016
PHOTO: Person filling out a ballot, Photo Date: August 15, 2016(KMVT)
Published: Oct. 28, 2019 at 1:00 PM AKDT
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A ballot initiative that would overhaul Alaska’s election process got a legal victory when an Anchorage judge overturned the State Attorney General’s opinion that the initiative was too broad, but the Department of Law signaled that the legal fight will continue.

The Alaskans for Better Elections would institute ranked-choice voting, open primaries to unaffiliated voters, and require more transparency from campaign contributors.

At the end of August, Attorney General Kevin Clarkson released an opinion that the initiative was unconstitutional because it “would force voters into an all or nothing approach on multiple important policy choices, all of which implicate their fundamental constitutional rights in different ways.” The Division of Elections then denied the initiative.

But an Anchorage judge disagreed and ordered the state to “distribute petition signature booklets immediately” in a ruling released Monday.

The group, which bills itself as a non-partisan citizens' initiative designed to clean up the electoral process in Alaska, celebrated the ruling, but the Department of Law signaled in a statement that the legal battle isn't over.

"This is ultimately an issue that the Alaska Supreme Court will need to resolve," the department wrote in a statement.

In denying the petition back in August, Attorney General Clarkson argued that the initiative violates what is called the “single-subject rule,” which essentially states that any initiative should be confined to one general topic so that petitioners don’t try to insert different provisions to appease diverse constituencies.

In her ruling today, the judge, Yvonne Lamoureux, an appointee of Gov. Bill Walker, wrote that in Alaskans for Better Elections, “there is a connection between the provisions addressing election reform.”

“The sole legal question is whether the proposed initiative embraces one general subject. The answer is yes.”

In a statement, the Department of Law said that they will file an appeal in the next couple of days, as well as asking the judge to grant a stay on the distribution of the election booklets until the appeal is complete.

The group must now collect 28,501 signatures - about 10% of Alaska’s voters - to make the next benchmark for eligibility.

“With the court allowing this initiative to move forward, the path is clear for Alaskans to usher in cleaner, fairer, and more open elections,” said Jason Grenn, a Co-Chair of the ballot group and former independent representative, “Alaskans will now have the opportunity to choose real structural reform to improve our elections.”

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