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Judge weighs arguments in case seeking to disqualify ranked choice repeal measure from Alaska ballot

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — State election officials acted properly when they allowed sponsors of a measure aimed at repealing Alaska’s ranked choice voting system to fix mistakes with dozens of petition booklets after they were already turned in, an attorney for the state said Tuesday.

The Division of Elections followed an “established interpretation” of the law, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Flynn told Superior Court Judge Christina Rankin.

Rankin heard arguments Tuesday in Anchorage in a lawsuit filed by three voters that alleges the division has no authority to allow sponsors to fix errors in a filed initiative petition on a rolling or piecemeal basis and asking her to disqualify the measure from the November ballot. Rankin did not immediately rule.

The two sides disagree on the interpretation of provisions of state law and regulation dealing with petition reviews.

Those seeking to get an initiative on the ballot need to go through a signature-gathering process and receive from the division booklets to gather signatures. Petition circulators need to attest to meeting certain requirements and have that affidavit notarized or certified.

Attorneys for the state in court records said the division found problems with more than 60 petition booklets — most involving a person whose notary commission had expired — and began notifying the initiative sponsors of the problems on Jan. 18, six days after the petition was turned in. The sponsors began returning corrected booklets on Feb. 12, and returned 62 corrected booklets before the division completed its signature count on March 8, Flynn and fellow attorney Lael Harrison wrote. No additional signatures were gathered during that time, they said.

“To say that what the division did is contrary to the regulation is not right,” Flynn said Tuesday.

But attorneys for the plaintiffs have countered that there is no law or regulation allowing the division to give select booklets back to the sponsors for fixes while the division’s verification process for the remaining booklets is underway. Division regulations require it to “either accept or reject a filed petition in its entirety,” a filing from attorneys Scott Kendall, Jahna Lindemuth and Samuel Gottstein says.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys also argued in court filings that by the time the sponsors of the repeal measure filed corrected booklets, key deadlines had already passed that would make it ineligible for the ballot.

Attorneys for the state and plaintiffs both agree the measure would not have sufficient signatures to qualify for the ballot if the 62 booklets were thrown out.

Kendall was an author of the successful 2020 ballot initiative that instituted open primaries and ranked vote general elections in Alaska. The system was used for the first time in 2022 and is set to be used again in this year’s elections.

Rankin peppered Kendall with questions during his arguments Tuesday. She also heard from Kevin Clarkson, an attorney representing the initiative sponsors, who intervened in the case. Clarkson and Lindemuth are former state attorneys general.

The plaintiffs also are challenging signature collecting methods by the sponsors.

Becky Bohrer, The Associated Press


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