A superior court judge on Monday heard arguments over whether a ballot measure that would change how Alaskans vote should move forward.

In August, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer rejected a group’s proposed three-pronged initiative, saying it violated single-subject law.

But initiative backers appealed before Superior Court Judge Yvonne Lamoureux, who promised to have a decision as soon as she could, acknowledging both sides are anxious for an answer.

The initiative seeks three changes:

  • Primary elections would become non-partisan elections;
  • Alaskans votes would rank the candidates rather than select one;
  • Eliminate dark money from independent expenditure with tighter disclosure restrictions.

Attorney Scott Kendall represented initiative group Alaskans for Better Elections, saying the three proposed changes carry a strong relationship.

“What’s different about these measures is that they all work together,” said Kendall, who served as chief of staff for Gov. Bill Walker and is working with former Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth on this case. “They're all part of one system."

He added, “The campaign finance element augments the other two parts. Voters decisions are only as good as the information they have. Having full, timely information about who is paying to influence your vote is critical to making an informed decision.”

Lamoureux asked Kendall why the group didn’t create two initiatives — one each for the voting and a second for the campaign finance.

“With the multiplicity of candidates, it’s going to be more important than ever that they have good information,” said Kendall, adding separate initiatives would create a greater burden.

Lamoureux pressed Kendall, saying the spirit of the goal behind the single subject rule “is to allow voters to express their preference on one subject, isn’t that the best way to do it, to separate those out?”

Kendall compared the initiative to legislation, such as the recent sweeping crime bill lawmakers passed in May, which included enhanced sentencing guidelines, more money for prosecutors and staff, and money for behavioral treatment.

Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh stressed there was no overlap in the proposed initiative.

“Campaign finance may seem related to elections; they are both in Title 15,” she said. “Campaign finance is very different from the administration of elections. The laws are administered by different state agencies.

She added, “There’s really not that much link between campaign finance and the administration of elections when you really think about what’s actually going on. When you look at these three reforms, I think instinctively, it seems like these are the sorts of changes that voters should have the ability to express their views on separately.”

Paton-Walsh added there is “no logical reason” why a vote who favors one measure would necessarily support the other, while questioning whether all three appeal to the same constituency.

Kendall said if the initiative backers prevail he expects the state to appeal to the Supreme Court. If so, he asked Lamoureux to order the state to provide signature gathering books because further delays from appeals could push this election to 2022.

Should the state win an appeal to the Supreme Court, no harm would come to the state by issuing signature books that would no longer be valid, he said.

Should the initiative advance, the backers would need 28,501 signatures from registered voters, which would have to be submitted before the Legislature gavels in Jan. 21, 2020, if it wants to get on the November ballot.

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