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Measure aimed at repealing Alaska’s ranked choice voting system scores early, partial win in court

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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Backers of a measure aimed at repealing Alaska’s ranked choice voting system scored an early, partial win in court when a judge ruled that state elections officials did not violate the law or regulations when they let the sponsors correct errors in petition booklets that had already been turned in.

Friday’s decision by Superior Court Judge Christina Rankin covers just a portion of the case brought by three voters seeking to keep the repeal measure off the November ballot. The lawsuit alleges the Division of Elections did not have the authority to allow the sponsors to fix errors in a filed initiative petition on a rolling or piecemeal basis. Rankin, however, ruled the division acted within its authority and complied with deadlines.

The plaintiffs also are challenging the signature-collecting methods by the sponsors, claims that remain unresolved. Trial in the case is scheduled to start this month.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Scott Kendall said by text message that when there’s a final judgment on all parts of the case, any of the parties might appeal.

“Although we are disappointed in this ruling, we will consider our options while the rest of this case proceeds,” he said.

Kendall was an author of the successful 2020 ballot measure that replaced party primaries with open primaries and instituted ranked voting for general elections. The new system was used for the first time in 2022 and is set to be used again this year.

The Department of Law “is pleased the court affirmed the Division of Elections’ interpretation, which makes it easier for voters to propose initiatives,” department spokesperson Sam Curtis said by email. The department is representing the division.

There is a signature-gathering process for those seeking to get an initiative on the ballot. Petition circulators must attest to meeting certain requirements and have that affidavit notarized or certified.

In a court filing, attorneys for the state 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 returned 62 corrected booklets by March 1, before the division completed its signature count on March 8, assistant attorneys general Thomas Flynn and Lael Harrison wrote in a filing last month.

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

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This story has been been updated to correct that trial in the case is scheduled to begin this month, not next month.

By BECKY BOHRER
Associated Press

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