Alaska Supreme Court to rule legality of new preferential voting system ahead of 2022 election


October 26 – JUNEAU – Opponents of Alaska’s new electoral system, after losing a case in Superior Court, are now appealing to the state’s Supreme Court.

The Alaska High Court accepted the appeal within an expedited time frame that will allow judges to hear arguments on Jan. 18. Judges are expected to render a summary ruling shortly thereafter, and that ruling will determine how Alaska runs its statewide election in 2022.

Last year, 50.6% of participating Alaska voters approved Ballot Measure 2, which significantly changes the way Alaska conducts state elections.

Lawyer Ken Jacobus, a Republican, represents himself, the Alaska Independence Party and libertarian candidate Scott Kohlhaas in a legal effort to reverse this result, arguing that it is impossible to implement the measure in a way that follows the Constitution of Alaska and the US Constitution.

“We are trying to put everything aside,” he said.

The state of Alaska, which is responsible for implementing the measure, and Alaskans for Better Elections, successor to the organization that campaigned for the measure, are defending themselves against the lawsuit.

Under the new ballot 2 measurement system, all candidates for a particular office, regardless of their party, will compete against each other in the August primary. (Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor are matched on the same ticket as running mate.)

Voters choose a candidate or ticket for each office, and the top four voters qualify for the November general election.

During this election, voters will be asked to rank the candidates in order of preference, No. 1 to 4. A registration area offers a fifth choice.

If a candidate obtains more than half of the first choice ballots, that person wins the election.

If none of the candidates achieves this score, the candidate with the fewest first choice votes is eliminated. Voters who choose that candidate first will have their ballot rolled over to their second choice, and the total is recounted.

If a candidate then has more than half of the votes, that person wins. Otherwise, the process continues until there are only two candidates left and the person with the most votes wins.

The ranked choice system is more prevalent internationally, but it is also used by some major US cities, including San Francisco and New York. Maine uses it for federal elections. Alaska is the second state to apply it.

Jacobus said he thought the top four primary was a mistake and intended to argue that it restricted political parties, and because political parties are the way Alaskans associate politically, this therefore represents an unconstitutional restriction on the right of free association.

In the electoral system used in 2020 and before, only one candidate from each party could move from primary to general elections. Now, several Republicans, several Democrats or several candidates from another party could advance.

The lawsuit is supported by the Alaskan Independence Party, of which the chairman, Bob Bird, is a plaintiff. Libertarian Scott Kohlhaas is also a plaintiff, but the Alaska Libertarian Party supports ballot measure 2.

Scott Kendall, who drafted much of the measure and now defends it in court on behalf of Alaskans for Better Elections, said Ballot Measure 2 was drafted with the constitution in mind and will stand.

“Judge Miller’s decision was well supported by law,” he said, referring to the lower court’s verdict.

“I think people saw that in the briefing and then in the argument and the order. And we definitely think we’ll get the same result in the state Supreme Court,” he said.

In Maine, the first state to approve preferential voting, there were numerous legal battles in federal and state courts ahead of the first elections under the new rules.

After this election, the losing candidates challenged the result in court. Kendall said he expected that here too.

“I expect that if the system works well and by the rules, this challenge will fail, as these are constitutionally allowed procedures to hold an election whether you like them or not,” he said.

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