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State challenges ballot measure that would install ranked-choice voting statewide

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: February 19
  • Published February 19

Former state Rep. Jason Grenn, co-chair of Alaskans for Better Elections, turns in 41,068 signatures as part of a ballot measure campaign Jan. 9, 2019 at the Alaska Division of Elections. (James Brooks/ADN)

State attorneys on Wednesday asked the Alaska Supreme Court to split a proposed election-reform ballot measure into two or more separate votes. If not, assistant attorney general Laura Fox said, the justices should rule the measure unconstitutional and prevent it from coming to a vote.

Fox’s request came as the state’s high court listened to courtroom arguments over the validity of the Better Elections ballot initiative, which would eliminate party-specific primary elections, install ranked-choice voting for general elections, and impose tough new disclosure rules on campaign contributions.

“Separating them would be easy, and the benefit to voters would outweigh the inconvenience to sponsors,” Fox said.

Attorney Scott Kendall, representing initiative sponsors, said a split doesn’t make sense. He used the 2014 legalization of marijuana as an example, saying that under the state’s interpretation of the law, voters might have been asked to vote three times, saying whether they wanted to legalize marijuana, regulate it, and tax it.

While supporters of the ballot measure have already turned in tens of thousands of supportive signatures, the assent of the Supreme Court is needed to put it before voters. It is not yet known whether the initiative would appear on the Aug. 18 primary ballot or the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

Last year, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer — at the suggestion of Attorney General Kevin Clarkson — ruled the measure unconstitutional, saying it violates the constitutional requirement that ballot measures cover a single subject only. A lower-court judge overruled the lieutenant governor, but the state appealed that decision to the high court.

Since 1985, the Supreme Court has said ballot measures and laws passed by the Legislature must hold to the same single-subject standard. The state now argues that precedent is wrong, there are different standards for each, and the new ballot measure is on the wrong side of the standard.

“Voters have to be presented with distinct policy choices, not packages of disconnected policy choices,” Fox said.

Kendall argued that all three aspects of the initiative deal with elections and if the measure were split up, voters might approve a combination entirely at odds with the goal of sponsors and signatories.

The Supreme Court took the issue under advisement and will issue a decision sometime this summer.

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