Alaska House committee advances legislation to repeal ranked choice voting

two lawmakers
Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, speaks with Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023 at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

The Alaska House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to advance a bill that would repeal ranked choice voting and open primaries.

The bill was first proposed last year by Homer Republican Rep. Sarah Vance to undo changes to Alaska’s voting laws, which were instituted through a 2020 ballot measure narrowly approved by Alaska voters.

The committee voted to advance the bill in a 5-2 vote, with all five Republicans in favor and the committee’s two Democrats opposed. The measure heads next to the House Finance Committee.

The bill has yet to be considered in the Senate and is likely to face headwinds there, where members of the majority have said they oppose efforts to repeal the voting method.

That 2020 ballot measure had put in place several changes that were first implemented in the 2022 election: It replaced Alaska’s closed primaries with open primaries; it put in place ranked choice voting in Alaska’s general elections; and it instituted new reporting requirements for political campaign contributors.

Opponents of the changes adopted through the 2020 ballot measure say the new voting laws disadvantage conservative Republicans. Proponents of the new system say it leads to electing politicians who appeal to a wider swath of voters and are more willing to work across party lines.

The original bill brought by Vance would have repealed ranked choice voting and open primaries. Vance proposed an amendment Wednesday — adopted in a 5-2 vote along party lines — to repeal the campaign reporting requirements, as well.

Rep. Andrew Gray, an Anchorage Democrat, called the measure “an attempt to undo the will of the voters” and said the committee had received public comments primarily in support of Alaska’s new voting laws. Gray said the new version of the bill “deliberately obfuscates large campaign donations by allowing donors to hide their contributions behind intermediaries.”

“Did people in your district come to you and say, ‘We like dark money, please increase the role of dark money in Alaska elections?’” Rep. Cliff Groh, an Anchorage Democrat, asked Vance. “Because I met a number of people in my district and around the state who are concerned about the role of intermediaries and dark money in Alaska elections.”

Vance said the measure was a top priority for constituents who had reached out to her.

Rep. Ben Carpenter, a Nikiski Republican, called the term “dark money,” used by supporters of the new reporting requirements, “a scare tactic that doesn’t really mean anything.”

“The reporting requirements don’t make it any more transparent than it was prior,” Carpenter said. “I believe that voters have a buyer’s remorse attitude right now in regards to the ranked choice voting process.”

The Division of Elections estimated that it would cost $2.5 million for a public information campaign to inform voters that the state had returned to its former voting laws. Vance said she thought less would be needed for the campaign because Alaskans were already familiar with the voting method used before 2022.

Separately, a ballot group is seeking to repeal Alaska’s open primaries and ranked choice voting laws through a ballot initiative in the 2024 election. Leaders of that group recently filed their petition to the Division of Elections. If approved by election officials, the repeal question would appear on the 2024 ballot, but it would not address the new campaign reporting laws.

If lawmakers approve a bill to repeal ranked choice voting and open primaries by the end of the session, it could make the ballot question unnecessary.

This story has been republished with permission from the original at the Anchorage Daily News.

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