Lawsuit seeks to allow non-Alaska residents to gather signatures for state ballot initiatives

A lawsuit filed in federal court this week seeks to remove the residency requirement for people gathering signatures for state ballot initiatives.

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To get a statewide voter initiative on the ballot, the sponsors must gather thousands of signatures. And for the signatures to be valid, the people gathering them must be Alaska residents.

Political consultant and former Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate Scott Kohlhaas said that requirement is unconstitutional.

Kohlhaas is working to get four potential ballot initiatives before voters. He said the law has for years placed an extra burden on initiative sponsors in terms of who they can hire.

Kohlhaas said that limits their constitutional rights to free speech, political association and to petition the government.

“You can’t live on love,” Kohlhaas said. “The way that the system is set up is that only the best organized and the best financed groups are going to get an issue on the Alaska state ballot.”

Kohlhaas and an out-of-state man hoping to come to Alaska to work as a signature gatherer are the two plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Meantime, the state said it is reviewing Kohlhaas’s complaint.

Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bakalar said it’s the job of her office to defend laws enacted by the Legislature and that only the Legislature or a court order can change the residency requirement.

Bakalar said the review – and any subsequent response from the state – could take up to three weeks.