Alaska Supreme Court upholds ranked choice voting and top-four primary

An Alaska Native man in a baseball cap sits at a voting booth
Bethel citizens vote at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center in Bethel, Alaska on Nov. 3, 2020. (Katie Basile/KYUK)

The Alaska Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld as valid a voter-approved election system that would end party primaries in the state and institute ranked choice voting in general elections.

A brief order affirmed a lower court ruling from last year. A fuller opinion explaining the Supreme Court’s decision was expected later.

The ruling comes one day after the justices heard arguments in the case.

The new system, narrowly approved by voters in 2020, is unique among states and set to be used for this year’s elections. It is viewed by supporters as a way to encourage civility and cooperation among elected officials.

Under the open primary, the top four vote-getters in a race, regardless of party affiliation, would advance to the general election, where ranked choice voting would be used.

Attorney Kenneth Jacobus; Scott Kohlhaas, who unsuccessfully ran for the state House in 2020 as a Libertarian; Bob Bird, chair of the Alaskan Independence Party; and Bird’s party sued in late 2020 over the initiative, challenging its constitutionality.

Jacobus said Wednesday he was disappointed with the outcome.

“But Alaskans are going to have what they voted for. They voted for it, so they got it, whether people understood it or not,” he said. “And we’re going to have to live with it.”

Jason Grenn, a Republican-turned-independent former state lawmaker and a sponsor of the initiative, said backers can now focus more attention on voter education and outreach ahead of the elections. He said the decision removes any lingering questions about whether the new system will be used this year.

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