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Murkowski May Avoid Tough Primary as Alaskan Activists Push Ranked-Choice Voting

'Well, there's been 18 years of change in the world, hasn’t there?'

(Headline USA) Political parties “have no right to be gatekeepers to the ballot,” an attorney argued Tuesday in urging the Alaska Supreme Court to uphold a voter-approved electoral system that would end party primaries in the state and institute ranked-choice voting in general elections.

Scott Kendall, who helped write the ballot measure, argued on behalf of the group behind the initiative, which narrowly passed in 2020.

Laura Fox, an attorney for the state, joined Kendall in asking that the court uphold a lower court ruling in favor of the new system.

The system is unique among states and viewed by supporters as a way to encourage civility and cooperation among elected officials. This year’s elections would be the first in which the system is used, if it stands. Under the open primary, the top four vote-getters in a race, regardless of party affiliation, would advance to the general election.

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Other states, including Maine, have begun to implement the ranked system in their general elections after a recent Supreme Court decision that approved it.

The system also might clear a path for incumbent RINO Sen. Lisa Murkowski to avoid a contentious intra-party primary by simply placing in the top four.

The situation echoes Murkowski’s 2010 primary loss, after which she waged a write-in campaign using her special interest ties to outspend conservative GOP candidate Joe Miller while poaching votes from both the Left and Right.

Murkowski—often considered to be the least party-loyal of all GOP senators—faces an uphill battle this year from Trump-endorsed candidate Kelly Tshibaka.

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However, Maine’s approach does have flaws, such as the fact that a party which fields more candidates might oust a more popular incumbent simply by whittling the vote below the 50% margin.

Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Daniel Winfree said the court would try to issue a prompt decision.

Attorney Kenneth Jacobus; Scott Kohlhaas, who unsuccessfully ran for the state House in 2020 as a Libertarian; Bob Bird, chair of the Alaskan Independence Party and Bird’s party sued in late 2020 over the initiative, challenging its constitutionality.

Jacobus, in court documents, asked that the initiative be voided.

He suggested that if it weren’t struck down entirely, the portions that remained could be stayed and put to voters again. Kendall said he knew of no basis for such an approach.

Jacobus theorized the initiative passed because of provisions that call for new campaign disclosure requirements. When asked Tuesday if that assertion was supported by the record, Jacobus cited in part the 2002 voter rejection of a ranked-choice system.

He said “nothing’s changed” since then, except that ranked-choice voting was lumped in with the disclosure provisions as part of the initiative that passed in 2020.

“Well, there’s been 18 years of change in the world, hasn’t there?” Justice Susan Carney said. She noted later that when the elements were combined, they passed.

Jacobus said he disagreed with a prior court decision that allowed the provisions to be wrapped into one measure, prompting a back-and-forth with justices that caused Winfree at one point to urge Jacobus to get back to the point of the claims he was raising in this case.

Fox on Tuesday defended the new system as constitutional.

Kendall said there is a severability clause if the court “found some small portion of the measure untenable.”

Kendall said the state and country are “at a turning point,” politically and economically, and that Alaska voters created a “new electoral system that they maybe believe is an attempt to turn the tide toward reason and compromise. They have the right to do that. They have the right to make that experiment.”

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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