State denies election reform initiative; backers say appeal is likely

Published: Aug. 30, 2019 at 4:37 PM AKDT
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The Alaska Division of Elections denied an initiative that would have significantly changed the way that elections are run in the state.

The initiative would have tightened up campaign finance disclosure, instituted a ranked-choice voting system, and opened up primary elections to all voters.

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson wrote that the initiative violated the single-subject rule, which requires that an initiative address only one topic.

“The single-subject rule serves an important constitutional purpose in the initiative context by protecting voters’ ability to have their voices heard,” wrote Attorney General Clarkson in his opinion to the Lt. Governor. “But 19AKBE, if certified, 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.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Law said that that is because there are three separate issues contained within the initiative: open non-partisan primaries, ranked-choice voting, and campaign finance reform.

"Voters would be unable to make their voices heard on each of these proposals separately. Instead they could only vote up or down on all three even if they have strong supportive opinions about one and opposition toward another," she wrote.

But supporters of the bill disagreed with the decision.

They argued that the initiative would better represent peoples' votes, instead of empowering extremes on both sides of the political spectrum.

But supporters of the bill disagreed with the decision and said they are looking at legal options for an appeal.

"We disagree with their reasoning. Right now we’re looking at all our legal options," said Jason Grenn, chair of the group. He said that they are planning on making a decision by the middle of next week. "Probably we’re leaning towards appealing, because we did our due diligence before submitting this in terms of the legal background," he said.

He also said he thought the group had a better chance at court.

"Once in front of a court we can explain our side better and then we can take it to the voters," he said.

According to a press release, the initiative committee is still planning for signature gathering and approval for the November 2020 ballot.

In an earlier interview with KTUU, Grenn said that there were many reasons to support the initiative.

He said it would better represent peoples' votes, instead of empowering extremes on both sides of the political spectrum.

"What we currently have now is what they call first past the post, and someone can win an election, even if they don't have a majority vote," said Jason Grenn, the Chair of the group in an earlier interview, "To most people, when you explain it like that they go, 'That doesn't sound right, I want someone who represents me to at least have won a majority of the votes in the district or that state."

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