Ranked choice supporters ask judge for pre-election ruling on repeal group’s misdeeds

Badges for the 2024 election (Getty Images)

A group trying to preserve Alaska’s ranked choice voting system has asked a state judge to rule before Election Day on state campaign regulators’ decision to penalize supporters of the repeal.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission ruled in January that Alaskans for Honest Elections, a group of repeal supporters, illegally sent campaign money through an organization registered as a church in Washington state. APOC commissioners fined the group more than $94,000 and ordered they make regular public disclosures.

The pro-repeal side appealed APOC’s decision to state courts in February, and under the normal course of events, a judge would rule sometime next year. 

But this week, attorneys representing Alaskans For Better Elections, an anti-repeal group, asked Judge Laura Hartz to speed up the case and issue a verdict during the campaign season.

Attorney Scott Kendall, representing Alaskans for Better Elections, said it’s important to his client that the pro-repeal side be required to post accurate information about the source of its money.

“My client’s position is that the public is entitled to this information, and if it’s in December, the public doesn’t care,” he said.

The Alaska Division of Elections is expected to formally certify a ballot measure this month that would repeal the state’s open primary election and its ranked choice general election, which were created by a 2020 ballot measure. 

Certification would clear the way for a repeal measure to appear on the November general election ballot. 

Former Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson is representing an array of pro-repeal groups and individuals and filed the initial appeal. He’s arguing that the judge should not hear the case speedily.

The two sides appeared in Anchorage Superior Court on Wednesday for a 45-minute scheduling conference with Judge Hartz, who said she will rule next week on the request for a speedy decision.

“The timing issue comes down to — for the court — whether it matters for purposes of the upcoming election,” Hartz said. 

Alaska Department of Law attorney Kate Demarest was also in Wednesday’s hearing, representing state regulators.

Speaking to Hartz, Demarest said that there are issues of liability and disclosure at play in the case.

“I do think that there are issues that the court needs to resolve, and that the Supreme Court ultimately needs to hear, (and those) are things that need to be done before the election,” Demarest said.

Hartz, appointed as a judge by Gov. Mike Dunleavy last year, said that if she does approve speedy consideration, she may need until June 21 or so to issue a final determination.

She and the other attorneys involved in the case said they expect her decision will be appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court.

“I’ll tell you, if it were up to me, I’m going to be jammed up doing this (quickly),” she said, “but I want to do right by the people of Alaska.”

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: info@alaskabeacon.com. Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and X.

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