Judge approves signature gathering for initiative that would change state elections

Rep. Jason Grenn, I-Anchorage, speaks during a House Floor Session in the Capitol in Juneau on Feb. 10, 2017.
Former Rep. Jason Grenn, I-Anchorage, speaks during a House floor session in the Capitol in Juneau in 2017. Grenn was not re-elected in 2018. He’s a sponsor of an initiative that received a favorable court ruling on Monday. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Update (Thursday, 6:43 p.m.) — Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO and Alaska Public Media

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Yvonne Lamoureux rejected a request by the Alaska Department of Law to temporarily stop signature gathering for an initiative to overhaul the state’s election laws. (Read more.)

Original story

A judge ruled on Monday that a ballot measure that would change how Alaskans choose state elected officials can move forward.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Yvonne Lamoureux overruled Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, who rejected the Alaska’s Better Elections Initiative. Meyer was acting on the advice of Attorney General Kevin Clarkson. Clarkson said the initiative violates a state law requiring that ballot measures address a single subject.

Former state independent lawmaker Jason Grenn, one of the initiative’s sponsors, said the sponsors were ecstatic.

“The reason we appealed the attorney general’s findings was, we thought that this … obviously would be good for Alaskans and good for our election reform up here in our state,” said Grenn, who added: “We thought that this fell under the umbrella of the single-subject rule.”

Voters in Sitka during the August 2014 state primary election. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/KCAW)
Voters in Sitka during the August 2014 state primary election. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/KCAW)

The initiative would require public disclosure of the names of those who contribute to groups working to influence candidate elections.

It would also consolidate the state’s primary system, instead of holding separate party primaries. The top four finishers, regardless of party, would advance to the general election. And voters would be able to rank the candidates in the general election. Sponsors said this would ensure that the winner is preferred by a majority of voters.

Lamoureux wrote that the initiative sponsors can immediately start gathering signatures.

The sponsors want to submit a petition so that it will be on the ballot next year. For that to happen, they’ll need to gather more than 28,000 signatures before the legislative session starts on Jan. 21.

The state has already filed a request to put the effort to gather signatures on hold. Assistant Attorney General Cori Mills said the Alaska Supreme Court may have to resolve an appeal of the ruling. She said a previous court decision, Croft v. Parnell, lays out a standard that invalidates this initiative.

“What the Croft v. Parnell court focused on is allowing voters the opportunity to vote on distinct proposals separately,” she said.

And Mills said this initiative has too many different pieces: Voters may like some pieces of it, but not others.

Mills said the state will file an appeal within the next few days.

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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