Ballot measures on ranked choice repeal, minimum wage increase likely to go before Alaska voters

Two citizen-backed initiatives will likely appear on the general election ballot in November, including one seeking to repeal Alaska’s voting system, state election officials said Tuesday.

After a monthlong review, the state Division of Elections made the initial assessment that groups had gathered enough signatures to place two questions on the ballot: Voters will be asked to indicate whether they support Alaska’s current ranked choice voting and open primary system; and whether they support provisions mandating paid sick leave for many Alaska workers and increasing the state’s minimum wage.

The initiative opposing ranked choice voting was organized by allies of some Alaska Republicans who raised concerns about how the new voting system impacts the ability of conservative GOP candidates to beat more moderate opponents moving forward. They also said the system was confusing, disenfranchising some voters.

Supporters of Alaska’s voting system have filed several complaints against the organizers of the initiative, accusing its leaders of repeatedly violating the state’s campaign ethics requirements. In 2022, Alaska became only the second state to use ranked choice voting in congressional elections, following Maine. Several other states have since considered adopting similar voting systems, which supporters say improve the likelihood of electing moderate candidates with broad appeal.

The organizers of the initiative were fined by Alaska’s campaign ethics commission over $94,000 last month for several campaign ethics violations. Still, the commission allowed the ballot initiative organizers to carry on with their signature-gathering effort.

According to the office of Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom, who oversees Alaska’s elections, the ranked choice voting opponents collected nearly 37,000 qualified signatures, meeting threshold requirements in 34 out of 40 House districts.

Under state law, each initiative petition was required to collect 26,705 qualified signatures from residents in at least 30 of the 40 House districts.


The anti-ranked choice voting group, Alaskans for Honest Elections, reported raising $60,000 in the last quarter of 2023. All of that funding was funneled through the Ranked Choice Education Association, a church formed by the leaders of the ballot measure when they launched their campaign. The Alaska Public Offices Commission determined that funneling campaign contributions through the church illegally concealed the true source of the money. Organizers of the ballot measure, including Wasilla resident Phillip Izon and Anchorage resident Art Mathias, are challenging the finding in Anchorage Superior Court.

Of the funding reported by the ballot group, $40,000 was spent on marketing services by Leading Light Advisors, a firm operated by Diamond Metzner, who is Izon’s wife. Additionally, $15,000 went to Top Fundraising Solutions, a firm owned by Mikayla Emswiler, who managed a paid signature-gathering effort for the ballot group. Emswiler worked in 2022 on the U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Kelly Tshibaka, who has formed a separate group to advocate against ranked choice voting in the wake of her loss to incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a more moderate Republican.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Izon said he would not be involved in campaigning for the ballot initiative moving forward, but that Metzner and Emswiler were both expected to remain involved.

At the end of 2023, the anti-ranked choice voting group reported having around $5,000 in its account. It had yet to report paying the fines imposed by the Public Offices Commission. Izon said that opponents of ranked choice voting would form a new organization to advocate for the initiative.

“We’re not surprised by the outcome but we weren’t really well-organized for the next push, because we wanted to make sure we were on the ballot before doing too much,” Izon said, adding that the “Republican Party and the establishment here didn’t want us to win.”

“We didn’t get any money from outside organizations. There were no big nonprofits or out-of-state signature firms involved. I’m actually not sure how we did it — but we did it,” said Izon.

Alaskans for Better Elections — a group supporting Alaska’s ranked choice voting system and open primaries — reported contributions totaling nearly $400,000 in the last three months of 2023, most of which from out-of-state groups and half of it in non-monetary donations of staff time or services. The campaign spent more than $385,000 during the three months — much of it on advertising.

That group also raised large sums ahead of the 2020 election, when Alaskans narrowly approved ranked choice voting and open primaries through a ballot measure.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people that said, ‘Hey, I didn’t support it initially, but now that we’ve done our first election under it, I like how this system turned out,’” said Juli Lucky, executive director of Alaskans for Better Elections, adding that the group would continue advocating for the state’s voting system and against the ballot measure.

Some conservative lawmakers have sought to overturn ranked choice voting and open primaries through the legislative process, but members of the Legislature’s current bipartisan Senate majority said such a proposal did not have support from their caucus.

The second ballot initiative — backed by the state’s largest labor group — would gradually increase Alaska’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2027. It would also provide employees with guaranteed paid sick leave and prohibit employers from compelling employees to attend meetings regarding religious and political matters, a tactic sometimes used to dissuade workers from unionizing.

Joelle Hall, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, said the policies would help working families.

”We’re going to ramp up our organizing, keep building our broad coalition spanning from small businesses to Alaska’s strong labor movement, and build a campaign ready to win in November,” Hall said in a statement.

The ballot group submitted more than 34,000 signatures, meeting requirements in 36 out of 40 districts, according to Dahlstrom’s office.

The ballot group, called Better Jobs for Alaska, has so far reported raising more than $850,000, including $100,000 in the last quarter of 2023. Almost all the funding came from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a left-leaning Washington, D.C.-based organization that has also supported Alaska’s current voting system.

The Division of Elections said it was still in the process of verifying all signatures submitted by both groups before finalizing the ballot questions.

“My duty is to ensure that each initiative petition meets the legal and procedural requirements set forth in our state constitution and statutes,” Dahlstrom said.

Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The AP and Report for America and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at isamuels@adn.com.