Wisconite petitions for right to distribute Alaska petitions

There are a lot of rules if you want to gather signatures to get a question on the ballot. You have to be at least 18. You can’t share your petition booklet with other people. And you have to be a resident of the state of Alaska. Now, a man from Wisconsin wants that last part of the law struck down, and he’s taking his case to court.

Robert Raymond
Robert Raymond has run for Congress every election cycle for almost two decades, and now he’s focusing his attention on the electoral process. (Robert Raymond Campaign for Congress/Facebook)

Meet Robert Raymond. He’s in his late fifties. He lives in a picturesque Milwaukee suburb. And in his spare time, he runs for office.

They call me a perennial candidate.

Raymond has never been to Alaska. But he’s suing the Division of Elections for the right to circulate petitions in the state.

Because he’s not an Alaska resident, any booklet he distributed would be tossed out, even if all of the signatures in it came from Alaskans. Part of the logic behind that policy is that you want people influencing laws to have a stake in the process. It’s to help keep outside groups from promoting their causes by flooding the state with signature gatherers in order to get on the ballot.

But for Raymond, that’s not a good justification.

“Are people probably going to probably maybe use this in a disingenuous way? I don’t know. But I shouldn’t be deprived of my rights because of other people and what they do.”

Raymond filed his lawsuit last September. Because higher courts have already found similar laws in states like Arizona to be unconstitutional, he figured he would have a good case. He’s even using the same lawyer who won that Arizona case, who was representing third party presidential candidate Ralph Nader at the time. But because Raymond didn’t have a specific initiative that he wanted to collect signatures for, the District Court dismissed his case this spring.

Libby Bakalar is the assistant attorney general handling the case for the state. She says they’re only looking at the issue of legal standing, and that for now, they’re refraining from taking up the substance of the case.

“The idea is before you get to be a plaintiff, you have to have an injury. You have to perfect a claim. What he did is write a letter to the Division and say ‘I might circulate a petition some day.’ And that’s not enough in our view, and that was not enough in the judge’s view.”

Raymond is fighting that decision, and the Ninth Circuit Court is expected to consider that appeal this summer. Raymond argues that even though he lives in Wisconsin and even though he’s not trying to promote any specific cause at the moment, he might want to come to Alaska some day and volunteer on something like the recreational marijuana initiative or the referendum to repeal the state’s new oil tax system.

But with the residency law on the books, Raymond says he having to censor himself, and that violates his First Amendment rights.

“They said, ‘Well, you can’t sue us. We haven’t hurt you yet.’ Well, you know, screw you. You know, if I come up there and it’s important to me, and I want to participate in a ballot initiative or help a candidate get on the ballot, I don’t need to get hurt or harmed first so that I have a cause of action before I sue you. Because you’ve already told me you’re going to harm me.”

For their part, the organizers behind the “Repeal the Giveaway” referendum are only using Alaska residents to circulate their booklets, and they’re not really following Raymond’s case.

But other people in the initiative world are watching it closely. Ken Jacobus is an Anchorage attorney involved with the recreational marijuana initiative. He’s also worked on a number of other initiatives through the years.

Oh my gosh, I’d probably forget a lot of them. Official English for Government. Anchorage Tax Cap. The latest one, which allows the municipal government the right to raise the individual property tax exemptions on residential property … There have been a lot of them.

Jacobus says the residency provision exposes initiative movements to the risk that their books could be tossed out if they unwittingly used an out-of-state circulator. And in his opinion, the circulators shouldn’t matter because in the end, only Alaska signatures count and only Alaskans get to vote on the issue.

Jacobus says that even if Raymond’s case fails because of lack of standing, there are Alaskans who would take up the cause.

“The constitutional issue is going to be reached at some point, whether or not Raymond does it or not, or whether or not we have to do it.”

It could take months, a year, or longer before that happens. Lt. Gov Mead Treadwell says that the state does plan to enforce the residency requirement in the meantime.

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