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Election reform ballot measure clears signature hurdle as Alaska lawmakers voice skepticism

JUNEAU — The Alaska Division of Elections said late Monday that a ballot measure seeking to install ranked-choice voting in Alaska has collected enough signatures to appear before voters this fall.

In a hearing Tuesday morning, several state lawmakers said they are skeptical of the proposal.

Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said she worries the plan could confuse and thus disenfranchise older voters.

“My concern is that the people who will be most likely disenfranchised will be the elderly who have most likely ... always voted the normal way,” she said.

Shea Siegert, campaign manager for Alaskans for Better Elections, the group backing the measure, said the Division of Elections would be required to conduct an education campaign in the two years before the first election under the new system.

Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, also questioned whether Alaskans for Better Elections is following campaign disclosure rules it is proposing to require. So far, the answer is yes.

Outside groups including Represent.Us and Unite America have spent more than $1 million to date to support the measure. Individual contributors to those groups have been disclosed in filings with the Federal Elections Commission.

Skepticism from some legislators can’t stop the ballot measure, but the Alaska Supreme Court could. Justices are considering the legality of the measure and are expected to rule this summer.

In the meantime, the director of the Alaska Division of Elections said new voting equipment coming into use this year is capable of handling ranked-choice voting.

Director Gail Fenumiai said the division has not started to consider what procedures might need to change if the measure passes.

The measure would make three main changes:

• It would eliminate party-run primary elections. The top four vote-getters in the late summer state primary would advance to the November general election, regardless of party.

• It would install ranked-choice voting in the general election. Voters would be asked to rank their top choices in the November election. Votes would be tallied, and if a candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, he or she would be named the winner. If no candidate receives half the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Any ballots cast for that candidate would go to the voters’ second choices. The process repeats until a candidate has at least half the vote or until there is only one candidate left.

• It would require disclosure for “dark money” political contributions. Groups donating to candidates or causes would be forced to say where they got their money.

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