Report: Judge rules against the state in 19AKBE ballot effort

Anchorage, Alaska (KINY) - Anchorage Superior Court Judge Yvonne Lamoureux has issued a summary judgment order that rejects Attorney General Kevin Clarkson’s legal reasoning for barring Alaska’s Better Elections initiative from advancing toward the 2020 ballot.

According to the Midnight Sun AK news website, Lamoureux’s order finds the initiative meets the legal grounds for an initiative and ruled that the Division of Elections must issue the group the booklets so it can begin the signature-gathering process.

The initiative seeks to end the state’s party primaries in favor of a nonpartisan primary, implement a ranked-choice voting process for the general election and create tougher campaign finance disclosure laws. Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer had rejected the initiative based on legal advice from Clarkson, who argued that the initiative violated the state’s rule that the content of legislation and initiatives fall under a single subject.

The state rejected the initiative, inviting its sponsors to voluntarily pare back the bill.

The backers argued instead that Clarkson’s application of the single-subject rule was wrong and that the provisions all fell under the subject of election reform.

Lamoureux’s order agrees with the initiative backers.

“Here the provisions of (Alaska’s Better Elections initiative) satisfy the test of relating to a single subject matter: election reform. Whether the provisions could have been written or offered as three separate initiatives is not the question before the court or the standard to be applied to this case. Similarly, whether it is wise or unwise to adopt the proposed initiative is not the question before the court,” wrote Lamoureux. “The sole legal question is whether the proposed initiative embraces one general subject. The answer is yes.”

The 12-page order delves into the history and thinking behind the single-subject rule, noting that precedent requires it to be interpreted broadly.

“There is longstanding precedent that courts should construe the single-subject rule provision ‘with considerable breadth,’” she wrote, noting that the single-subject rule means legislation should align with a “general idea.”

She noted that the only time that the single-subject rule was used to effectively kill an initiative was in Croft v. Parnell, where an initiative sought to implement both an oil production tax and a new “clean elections” program. She disputed the state’s position that that case reinterpreted the single-subject rule.

“The court did not announce a new test to be applied when reviewing challenges to initiatives based on the single-subject rule. Instead, for the first time, the court concluded that there was a violation of the single-subject rule,” Lamoureux wrote. “But the court applied the same test that has been applied in seven prior cases addressing the single-subject rule. In other words, the outcome was different from the past cases, but the analysis remained the same.”

She noted that the single-subject rule applies both to initiatives and to legislation written and passed by the Alaska Legislature, where legislation like this year’s crime legislation House Bill 49 dealt with the criminal justice system broadly from sentencing to parole and recidivism.

The state did not raise single-subject concerns about that legislation.

The order clears the way for the group to begin the process of collecting the 28,501 signatures needed to get the initiative on the 2020 ballot. It must turn the signatures into the Division of Elections before the start of the legislative session on Jan. 21, 2020 to meet that deadline.

The state has not signalled if it will appeal the case to the Alaska Supreme Court.

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