Oral arguments set for Wednesday on ranked voting, jungle ballot initiative - Must Read Alaska
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Oral arguments set for Wednesday on ranked voting, jungle ballot initiative

Two sides will line up before the Alaska Supreme Court on Feb. 19 to argue if a ballot initiative that would completely remake Alaska elections meets legal criteria.

On the one side, the State of Alaska Division of Elections will argue that there are three parts to the initiative, and that makes it in violation of the single subject rule.

Alaskans for Better Elections, sponsored by a liberal Outside group using frontman former Rep. Jason Grenn as its local face, wants to create ranked voting and dismantle the party walls of primaries, to have open primaries where the top four vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of their party, as they do in California. The system would allow Democrats to vote in the Republican primary, and vice-versa.

The third item on the initiative relates to campaigns, and would prohibit certain kinds of campaign contributions.

The Division of Elections says that is three items for an initiative and the law limits it to one.

Alaskans for Better Elections will be in court with their lead lawyers Scott Kendall, former chief of staff to Gov. Bill Walker, and Jahna Lindemuth, former attorney general for Walker, arguing that it’s just one thing on the ballot, not three.

[Read: Log-rolling is an issue with Alaskans for Better Elections]

Kendall and Lindemuth are the same lawyers litigating to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Kendall was also the campaign manager for Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s last run for office. He would have observed that in rural Alaska, some voters would want to vote the Republican ballot in order to support Murkowski in the primary, but vote a Democrat-everybody-else ballot to get their Democrats into legislative seats. In a closed primary, people vote one ballot or the other.

Ann Brown, vice chair of the Alaska Republican Party, says the initiative, if passed, would destroy the integrity of Alaska’s elections.

In a ranked-choice election, voters “rank” their choice of candidates for a given office. Candidates getting more than 50% of the vote in the first round of counting would win office immediately. But if no candidate wins an outright majority, then some clever calculating is done, until one candidate exceeds the 50 percent threshold.

The goal of Alaskans for Better Elections is to flip Alaska to a Democrat state. Outside groups are targeting Alaska because of its weak voter initiative laws — all kinds of things can get on the ballot in Alaska, if there are enough signatures gathered.

[Read: Outside dough spilled to screw up Alaska elections]

Ranked choice voting has been implemented in Maine, while the open primary — also called a jungle primary — operates in California and locks Republicans out of elected office.

Democrats in Iowa used ranked voting during their presidential caucus this month, with disastrous results that left many participants losing confidence in the fairness or transparency of the process.

Ranked-choice voting enables candidates with limited voter support to win elections, Ann Brown wrote in an op-ed in December.

“Maybe Mr. Grenn believes he could have defeated Rep. Rasmussen in 2018, even without support from his constituents, under this system. All Mr. Grenn would have had to do to continue to be considered is not be the candidate with the lowest votes received; he could have persisted in the race long after his expiration date,” she wrote.

“Consider this – a 2015 study of four local elections in Washington and California using ranked-choice ballots found that the winner in all four elections never received a majority of the votes. This is because voters usually do not rank all possible candidates. For the sake of expediency and their own sanity, voters typically only list their top two or three candidates. If those candidates are eliminated, then so are the votes of these individuals. Under a ranked-choice system, ballots that do not include the ultimate victors are summarily cast aside. While this creates the appearance of a majority of votes in favor of the winner, it obscures actual voter choices; it’s a system that fundamentally disenfranchises voters,” Brown argued.

In 2018, a conservative House member lost the election despite having won the most votes in the initial count. The Maine Secretary of State threw out more than 14,000 ballots that had not chosen a second, third, or fourth candidate, and the win went to the liberal on the ballot.

This meant that those who didn’t bother to rank other candidates had their ballots counted just once, but those who ranked candidates had their ballots counted up to three times.

In Maine, Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican who received a plurality of first round votes, was unseated by Democrat Jared Golden due to the ranked choice distribution and the tossed ballots.

“One can see why progressives are so excited about this proposal. It reeks of elitism and is engineered to pad the fortunes of liberal candidates. Alaskan voters, don’t let yourselves be taken in. If this initiative reaches your ballot next year, vote it down,” Brown wrote.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Should be interesting to hear how anyone could possibly argue that ranked choice voting, open primaries, and campaign contributions are all the same thing. I’m not sure what kind of twisted logic will be used but it must be similar to the argument that a limit of 200 words for a ballot proposition some how includes an appendix that in itself includes more than 200 words.

    • “Should be interesting to hear how anyone could possibly argue that ranked choice voting, open primaries, and campaign contributions are all the same thing.”

      They are all part of election reform. That is the subject.

      • “They are all part of election reform. That is the subject.”
        .
        That’s one way to do it, argue that three completely different and distinct proposed changes are all a part of one overall broad subject.
        .
        If one of these three proposed changes were removed from the proposition, would it have any material change on the other two in any meaningful way? If not then they aren’t the same subject.
        .
        Can we now just add as many individual ideas together into a ballot proposition as long as they deal with a broad subject matter like taxes, or fisheries, or the environment…the list goes on and on.

        • It is called the single subject rule. Not the single item rule. If all the items deal with the same subject (election reform) they can be combined.

          • Exactly right, it’s called the single subject rule. Ranked choice voting is a single subject. Open primaries is a single subject. Campaign contribution reform is a single subject. Putting all three individual subjects into one proposition does not meet the single subject rule; it’s just math.
            .
            I guess we will see what the supremes think when it is ruled upon, maybe they don’t know how to math?

        • I can’t reply to your other comment.

          The subject of the initiative is election reform. Are you trying to argue that ranked voting, open primaries, and campaign contributions are not all types of election reform?

          • I’m not arguing anything of the sort, to suggest otherwise ignores everything I’ve written about the subject and ignores the completely obvious. Of course all three subjects are a form of election reform.
            .
            What I’m saying is that ranked voting, open primaries, and campaign contributions are different subjects. You clearly agree and that is why you listed them the way you did. If you thought them the same subject why would you use a comma to separate them, call them types of election reform, and not simply say this is a proposition about election reform?
            .
            In other words if this were just a single subject election reform proposition then why are there three individual and completely separate subjects/items/types/whatever word you want to use being crammed into it?
            .
            Ranked voting, open primaries, and campaign contributions are obviously three individual and distinct subject matters. The way you write about them alone proves it.

        • “Of course all three subjects are a form of election reform.”

          There you go, you figured it out. The single subject is “election reform.” You could debate that it is too broad and I believe that’s what the supreme court will decide.

  • Pure Democrat mischief. Republicans switched to closed primaries for a good reason: to keep Democrats from determining the outcome of Republican primaries. This reopens that door and allows Democrats to control the process. Democrats are doing this because they are finding it harder to win fair and honest elections.

  • The three items should appear separately on the ballot and not together. The open primary does not belong with limitations to campaign contributions (which we sorely need). Is ranked choice voting a bogey man in disguise ? Those in power want to keep it that way, while third parties are kept in check. Who wants to spoil an election by voting for a better candidate if they don’t have a chance of winning ? I point to Ross Perot and the election of Bill Clinton. It never would have happened with Rank Choice Voting.

  • The irony here is that the two biggest legal idiots from the Walker Administration are the same two who couldn’t save Walker’s re-election in a straight-up contest. Walker was so bad……he had to quit. His running mate……still in hiding.

  • The whole point is outside liberals are trying to take over states. They can’t beat Republicans at the ballot box so this is their attempt to have us all like California. There is no honor or anything honest about this ballot measure. Follow the money!

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