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Alaska Supreme Court approves election-reform ballot measure

In November, Alaskans will decide whether to impose ranked-choice voting, nonpartisan primary elections and tough new rules on campaign finance disclosure.

In a unanimous decision published Friday, the Alaska Supreme Court upheld a lower-court decision and confirmed the legality of a proposed multipart ballot measure including all three topics. The state of Alaska had argued that the measure violated a constitutional requirement that ballot measures be limited to one subject.

Backers of the initiative sued the state after the measure was rejected, and in October, Superior Court Judge Yvonne Lamoureaux ruled that all three components fall under the single subject of “election reform.”

The state appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed with Lamoureaux’s interpretation of the Alaska Constitution.

“All substantive provisions fall under the same subject matter of elections, seek to institute an election reform process, and, as the superior court noted, change a single statutory title, Title 15, Alaska’s Elections Code,” the court said in an opinion authored by Justice Daniel Winfree.

The Alaska Legislature is bound by a similar single-subject rule, and attorneys representing the state had argued that there is a difference between the rule as applied to ballot measures and the Legislature.

The justices rejected that argument, writing, “We reject the request to reverse precedent that the people’s power to initiate laws generally is equivalent to that of the legislature — we affirm the (lower) court’s decision.”

The ruling was one of the last matters considered by Supreme Court Justice Craig Stowers, who retired June 1. (Lamoureaux is one of four finalists to replace him.)

Backers of the election-reform initiative have already gathered the signatures of 36,006 qualified Alaska voters, enough for the measure to go before voters this fall. The vote is scheduled to take place during the Nov. 3 general election.

Attorney Scott Kendall represents Alaskans for Better Elections, the group behind the initiative. He said in a written statement that the group is pleased with the decision.

“The initiative process is fundamental to upholding the people’s power in our democratic process, and today’s ruling is a victory for all Alaskans,” he said.

If approved by voters, the measure would put all candidates for statewide office into a single pool for the primary election starting in 2022. The top four vote-getters for each office would advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. The general election ballot might feature multiple Republicans, multiple Democrats, multiple independents, or any other mix.

At the general election, voters would be asked to rank the four candidates. If a candidate receives more than half of the first-place votes, they are the winner. If no candidate has half the votes, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated, and the votes are recounted. Voters who picked the eliminated candidate would have their votes go to their second choice. The process would continue until a candidate has at least half the votes.

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