An Eagle River man has sued Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer and the Alaska Division of Elections to block backers of a ballot initiative from beginning to gather signatures, and Alaska’s attorney general has already stopped the process.
In a complaint and request for a temporary restraining order filed Tuesday, Harry N. Young Jr. alleges that the state violated Article XI, Section 3 of the Alaska Constitution by allowing backers of the ranked-choice voting initiative to begin gathering signatures before their measure has been certified by the Division of Elections.
The ballot measure seeks to change Alaska’s electoral system by toughening campaign contribution laws, making the state’s primary elections open to all candidates and installing ranked-choice voting during general elections. In August, Meyer ruled that the initiative violated the “single-subject” clause of the Alaska Constitution. That clause says that laws — including those enacted by ballot measure — can address only one topic at a time.
Without Meyer’s approval, signature-gathering could not begin, so backers appealed to state Superior Court. Oral arguments are not scheduled until November, but the state and petitioners agreed to allow signature-gathering in the meantime. Backers had argued that because they must gather 28,501 signatures before the Legislature convenes in January, any delay would put them at a legal disadvantage and disenfranchise them.
The state agreed, but Young’s lawsuit says that if the state allows signature-gathering before a verdict, it violates a portion of the constitution that allows signature-gathering only “after certification of the application.”
Rather than wait for a judge to rule on Young’s request for an injunction to stop the signature-gathering, Attorney General Kevin Clarkson took to Twitter on Wednesday morning to say that he had already stopped the process.
A lawsuit was filed claiming that signature books for the initiative to eliminate party primaries cannot be released until final order of the Court. To let the Court play it’s role interpreting the Constitution, I told the Div. of Elec. to hold the books until final court order— Kevin G. Clarkson (@AGKevinClarkson) September 18, 2019
By email, Senior Assistant Attorney General Cori Mills confirmed the stoppage.
“Considering the legal questions that have now been raised, we feel it is better to wait for resolution of those issues because once the petition booklets are provided, they are no longer in the State’s control. We need to have finality from the courts before proceeding,” she wrote.
Attorney Scott Kendall, representing the ballot measure’s supporters, said he was not served with the lawsuit and did not receive the documentation until Wednesday afternoon. He said he was not immediately prepared to comment.
Anchorage attorney Matt Singer, of the firm Holland & Knight, is representing Young. He said by phone and email that Young’s concern "is not with any particular ballot initiative, but rather that the state government should follow the constitution and the laws as written."
Through Singer, Young declined a request for an interview.
Young is a registered Republican, according to the state’s database of registered voters, and his legal complaint identifies him as a “precinct leader for his political party.”
Singer said he himself has "not been engaged by any political party in this matter,” and that the case was brought out of concern “that the Division of Elections should follow the constitution and the law when it issues ballot initiatives, regardless of the subject matter of the initiative.”
Singer has argued legal cases involving ballot measures before, and in his experience, the state has never before allowed signature-gathering to take place before a judge’s verdict.
Mills said allowing signature-gathering for the ranked-choice ballot measure is “not standard practice. The State agreed to it in this case because it involved the single-subject rule, which means the entire initiative bill will either rise or fall based on the court’s decision. In other cases, the court could sever provisions of the initiative bill thereby resulting in the petition booklets potentially changing with the court’s final order.”
Singer said it’s important that the state follow the law.
“If the state can just print initiatives willy-nilly, why have the process in the first place?” he said.