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Judge says signature-gathering can begin for ranked-choice ballot measure

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: September 11, 2019
  • Published September 11, 2019

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has issued an order allowing signature-gathering to begin for a ballot measure seeking to start ranked-choice voting in Alaska.

Judge Yvonne Lamoureaux’s action does not reverse a decision by Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer that the measure violates the Alaska Constitution and should not advance to the ballot.

Alaskans for Better Elections, the group promoting the measure, has appealed Meyer’s decision to the courts, and oral arguments are scheduled for Nov. 1, but Lamoureaux agreed to a stipulation that delaying signature-gathering could harm the ballot measure’s cause if backers win their legal case. The plaintiffs and the state had jointly agreed to the stipulation before Lamoureaux’s decision.

In order for the measure to come before voters in 2020, Alaskans for Better Elections must gather 28,501 signatures before the start of next year’s legislative session, and the judiciary must rule the ballot measure legal.

Scott Kendall, the attorney representing Alaskans for Better Elections, said Lamoureaux’s order was “just about as fast as we could have asked for” and that the prospects for their case are “very promising.”

He said that plans for signature-gathering are not yet final, pending the printing of the petition books by the Alaska Division of Elections.

Cori Mills, assistant attorney general for the Alaska Department of Law, wrote by email, "The issue in this case is whether the initiative violates the constitutional single-subject rule. This means that the initiative will either be completely invalidated or completely validated — the court will not sever specific provisions.

"For these reasons, there is no harm to the State in printing the petition booklets now, so long as a bond is posted to cover the cost. This will let us focus on the legal arguments and get the case resolved as quickly as possible.”

Lamoureaux’s order means the ranked-choice voting initiative is the second of four proposed measures for the 2020 election to reach the signature-gathering stage. The Alaska Division of Elections has already certified a measure seeking to move legislative sessions to Anchorage from Juneau.

Measures to raise oil taxes and enact a “students’ educational bill of rights” have not yet been considered by the Division of Elections.

The ranked-choice voting measure was considered and rejected after Meyer followed advice from the Alaska Department of Law. In a legal opinion signed by Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, the department advised that the measure would violate a prohibition on including multiple topics within a single piece of legislation.

Backers of the measure reject that argument, saying all three sections of the 25-page ballot initiative deal with voting.

The first section would enact a ban on so-called “dark money” political contributions. If a group donates to a political cause, that group would be required to disclose where its funding came from. In addition, any group that gets more than 50% of its funds from out of state would have to disclose that in any political advertising it funds.

The second section eliminates party-specific primary elections. All candidates for statewide or legislative office would run in a single primary, and only the top four candidates would advance to the general election.

The third section installs ranked-choice voting. In the general election, voters would be asked to rank their preferred candidates 1-2-3-4. When the votes are counted, the winning candidate is the one who receives more than half the No. 1 votes.

If no candidate passes that hurdle, the candidate who received the fewest No. 1 votes is eliminated, and his or her supporters’ votes go to their second choice. The totals are retabulated, and the process continues until there is an outright winner.