State maintains challenge to ranked-choice voting ballot measure in Alaska Supreme Court hearing

Published: Feb. 19, 2020 at 10:40 PM AKST
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Arguments over a ballot initiative by a group that says it wants a ranked-choice voting system in Alaska, and the group’s opposition, were heard in the State Supreme Court Wednesday.

The focus was the initiative brought forth by Alaskans for Better Elections. The three-part proposal would enact a system in which voters can rank candidates in order of individual preference; would switch Alaska from a closed primary for state elections to an open primary, in which voters could choose a candidate running under any party; and would end “dark-money” donations, requiring candidates receiving donations of more than $2,000 to make contributor and contribution information publicly available within 24 hours.

Among the discussions Wednesday was one side’s position that the initiative is needed and serves voters’ best interests, while the other maintained there are simply too many parts included to be considered one initiative.

“Three different fundamental changes to how we're running elections,” said Asst. Attorney General Laura Fox, representing the State and Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer in court Wednesday, “and putting those together. A package of minor tweaks to existing law raises different, lesser concerns than combining in one package three different major reform proposals that are fundamentally changing the law.”

The oral arguments come after much back and forth over the topic, with a lower court at one point even ruling it could move forward to the 2020 ballot.

As each side presented its arguments, the five Supreme Court justices asked questions of each, many seeking clarification on points made:

One stated, “You want us to reverse that. If we don't, what is your position on the single-subject rule in terms of overruling earlier precedent and tightening it up?”

Scott Kendall, of Alaskans for Better Elections, likened the initiative to laws surrounding cannabis in Alaska.

“Having to do it on marijuana, for example, through six ballot measures,” he said. ‘What if retail sales were approved, but commercial production was not approved? What if a tax was approved, but retail sales wasn't? The system would collapse into itself, and these three pieces are similarly interdependent.”

While the three-in-one setup is something the ABE group said makes sense arguing that “a measure is only invalidated where the violation is substantial and plain.”

The State maintained the initiative should be split into parts, specifically since it encompasses more than one change and brings the single-subject rule into question.

“We're not saying these kinds of initiatives can't be put on the ballot,” Fox said. “It's just that there's no reason, really, that they have to be combined together and bundled together in the same initiative.”

No exact date has been announced for a decision.

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