Gavel (Courtesy photo)

Judge hears case challenging new Alaska election system

Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller did not immediately rule Monday.

By Becky Bohrer

Associated Press

A lawsuit challenging a voter-approved initiative that would end party primaries and institute ranked-choice voting for general elections in Alaska is alleging constitutional violations but the accusations are actually policy objections, an attorney for the state argued Monday.

Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton Walsh said the initiative setting out the new system does not violate constitutional rights. Political parties previously have used primaries to advance a nominee to the general election. Under the new system, the top four voter-getters in each race would advance to the general election, regardless of party.

Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller did not immediately rule Monday after hearing arguments from Paton Walsh, attorneys for the plaintiffs and the group behind the initiative.

Changes under the initiative, which voters narrowly approved in November, are set to take effect for next year’s elections. Those elections will decide races for offices including U.S. Senate, U.S. House, governor and lieutenant governor. The lawsuit was filed late last year by Scott Kohlhaas, who unsuccessfully ran for state House as a Libertarian; Bob Bird, chairman of the Alaskan Independence Party; Bird’s party; and Anchorage attorney Kenneth P. Jacobus. In court documents, they have called the new system a “political experiment” and said the judge must decide if ranked-choice voting “negatively impacts the right of Alaskans to free political association.” “Marginalizing political parties, as this system does, harms the right of Alaskans to free political association, and allows those with money to take control,” Jacobus argued in a recent court filing.

He said Monday that he expected the case would go to the Alaska Supreme Court.

In court documents, attorneys for the state have maintained the system set out by the initiative creates a more accessible primary and said parties remain free to endorse whomever they choose. Paton Walsh and Thomas Flynn, another assistant attorney general, also said in court documents that ranked-choice voting does not violate constitutional rights because each voter would have the same opportunity to rank candidates.

Scott Kendall, an attorney for the group behind the initiative, said the plaintiffs in this lawsuit misunderstand how ranked-choice voting works.

Some major U.S. cities use ranked-choice voting, including New York City, and Maine uses it for federal races.

More in News

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of May 22, 2022

Here’s what to expect this week.

Coast Guard aircrews medevaced two people from Dry Bay Airstrip, approximately 30 miles Southeast of Yakutat, Alaska, after their plane crashed, May 25, 2022. (Courtesy photo / Coast Guard District 17)
Three medevaced after plane crash near Yakutat

All four aboard were injured, three critically so.

The author’s appreciation for steelhead has turned into something like reverence considering what’s happening to populations in the Lower 48 and Canada. (Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire)
I Went to the Woods: Silent steel

“You forget most of what ends up in the freezer, but those steelhead, they stick with you.”

Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, seen here in this June 16, 2021, file photo, announced Wednesday he will not seek relelection in the Alaska State Senate, where he has served since 2013. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)
Senate president says he won’t run again

“Honor and a privilege.”

Hoonah’s Alaska Youth Stewards helped make improvements to Moby and water the plants in summer 2021. (Courtesy Photo / Jillian Schuyler)
Resilient Peoples & Place: Moby the Mobile Greenhouse cultivates community

It presents opportunities to grow food knowledge and skills.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Thursday, May 26, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Alaska Supreme Court orders use of interim map for elections

The decision came just over a week before the June 1 filing deadline for the August primaries.

Most Read