The Alaska commission responsible for overseeing campaign ethics is scheduled to meet later this week to consider two complaints filed against groups and individuals that have been working for months to overturn Alaska’s new voting system.
The complaints allege that those working to repeal Alaska’s ranked-choice voting and open primary system — including a church called the Ranked Choice Education Association and a nonprofit organization founded by former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka — have repeatedly violated state law by inaccurately reporting the source of their funding and failing to accurately report certain activities and spending in their quest to do away with the state’s voting system.
The staff of the Alaska Public Offices Commission has found in an independent investigation that groups advocating against ranked-choice voting and their leaders have violated state law. But it is up to the commissioners to make a final determination on whether the law was broken and the size of the fines for the possible violators.
As the commissioners prepare to meet Thursday for two separate hearings — one on Tshibaka’s group and another on the leaders of a ballot initiative — two other complaints have been filed with the commission by both opponents and supporters of the system, as a group called Alaskans for Honest Elections nears its deadline for submitting the required 26,000 signatures needed to put the question of repealing the new voting system on the 2024 ballot.
A complaint filed Monday by Alaskans for Better Elections, a pro-ranked choice voting group, alleges that the leaders of the ballot group have continued to violate state law in their effort to repeal the state’s new voting system, even after being warned repeatedly by state officials that they must change their reporting practices to comply with the law.
In a complaint filed last month, the leader of the anti-ranked choice voting group, Phillip Izon, alleged that Alaskans for Better Elections violated state law by failing to report certain activities as required with the commission. Alaskans for Better Elections has denied the allegations and asked for the complaint to be dismissed.
Izon and his group, Alaskans for Honest Elections, are represented by former Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, who resigned in 2020 and moved away from Alaska after facing allegations that he had inappropriately sent text messages to a female colleague. Alaskans for Better Elections, the pro-ranked choice voting group, is represented by Scott Kendall, who authored the original ballot measure that put in place Alaska’s ranked choice voting and open primaries in 2020.
The slew of complaints points to a brewing fight between the supporters and opponents of the new voting system. Supporters of the open primaries and the ranked-choice general election say it favors more moderate, consensus-building candidates. Opponents say it’s confusing and works against conservative Republicans who would have won under Alaska’s old system of partisan primaries and pick-one general elections.
While some conservative state lawmakers have voiced opposition to the new voting system, enough of them have said that they intend to support it for the time being to halt any legislative effort to repeal the system. That means opponents are left with a citizens’ initiative as their only path to possibly get rid of the voting system until after the next election.
A decision by the Alaska Public Offices Commission after Thursday’s scheduled hearing could spell disaster for the ballot effort. According to a report prepared by the commission’s staff and filings by the supporters of the voting system, the associated fines for the group’s reporting violations could exceed the total amount of funding raised by the ballot group thus far.
Alaskans for Honest Elections, the group seeking to repeal ranked-choice voting, reported only $2,000 in income for a three-month period between July and October, all from the Ranked Choice Education Association, a Washington-based church through which the group has funneled its funding. In the same period, it reported spending $1,750 paying fines for past legal infractions, and $800 to the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, which paid for a table at the alliance’s annual conference in 2022, according to the alliance’s chief executive, Rebecca Logan. Those were its only two expenses.
In the same time period, the group purported to continue gathering signatures for its ballot measure across the state, relying solely on volunteers. The group must submit at least 26,000 signatures of registered Alaska voters by February to put the question of repealing the voting system on the 2024 ballot.
Alaskans for Honest Elections reported that it had only $210 in the bank as of Oct. 7, after spending the vast majority of the roughly $100,000 it had raised since the beginning of the year. According to a report prepared by commission staff, the maximum penalties for the group’s reporting violations could exceed $100,000.