Alaska Supreme Court unanimously rejects attorney general’s bid to quash election reform initiative

The seal of the state of Alaska hangs behind the dais where Alaska Supreme Court justices normally hear cases in the Boney Courthouse in Anchorage.(Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The Alaska Supreme Court has unanimously rejected an attempt by Attorney General Kevin Clarkson to quash a citizens initiative to revamp the state’s elections.

The decision released Friday morning upholds a lower court decision that allowed the initiative’s sponsors to collect the signatures needed to place the measure on the ballot. And it marks Clarkson’s second high-profile Supreme Court defeat in the space of one month, after he also lost an effort to block the campaign to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

The initiative would institute what’s known as “ranked-choice voting” in Alaska — a method aimed at giving people more freedom to vote for third-party candidates. It also would block parties from limiting their primary elections only to voters not registered with another party, and it would require more transparency about the funders of independent campaign groups — the Alaskan equivalent of Super PACs.

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When the initiative’s sponsors originally proposed the measure to the Alaska Division of Elections, the agency rejected it based on Clarkson’s advice, saying it violated a state constitutional requirement that initiatives be limited to a single subject.

After the initiative’s sponsors filed suit, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Yvonne Lamoureux ruled that Clarkson was wrong and that the initiative’s focus was limited to the single subject of “election reform.” The Supreme Court upheld that decision in its ruling Friday.

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“This initiative’s provisions are properly classified under ‘election reform’ as a matter of
both logic and common sense,” wrote Justice Daniel Winfree. “They all relate to the elections process and share the common thread of reforming current election laws. We can logically conclude that the various initiative provisions substantively change (or reform) the state’s elections.”

While the initiative does make three different changes to Alaska election law, two of them — ranked-choice voting and the opening of party primaries — are related “because they together ensure that voting does not revert to a two-candidate system,” Winfree wrote. And the third provision boosting transparency and voter knowledge “logically relates to election reform,” he added.

The initiative is set to appear on the ballot in November.