After a lengthy and occasionally heated meeting on Dec. 6, Alaska’s Public Offices Commission rejected a request by a pro-ranked choice voting group that wanted the state to intervene and halt the nearly completed signature gathering effort of a group that is seeking to repeal ranked-choice voting.
Ranked-choice voting architect Scott Kendall, who provides legal representation for Alaskans for Better Elections, filed the complaint with APOC. He asked for expedited consideration of his complaint, alleging that Alaskans for Honest Elections failed to comply with registration and disclosure requirements in their effort to secure enough signatures to get the repeal question on the November 2024 ballot.
Kendall’s Dec. 4 complaint acknowledges that the anti-ranked choice group, Alaskans for Honest Elections (AHE), is on the cusp of securing the needed signatures, and claims they should be stopped due to an alleged failure to properly disclose that a non-profit group, Wellspring Ministries, is assisting their efforts.
Kendall is the former campaign legal counsel for Sen. Murkowski. He drafted and helped spearhead the ranked choice voting law in Alaska, and now spends considerable time attempting to defend it.
Kendall specifically alleges that ranked-choice opponents used office space from Wellspring Ministries, a faith-based group that owns a building in South Anchorage, where Wellspring Fellowship meets for religious services. The building also has offices, which Wellspring rents out to other tenants. Kendall asserts that AHE is hiding the fact that Wellspring is actively supporting the repeal effort, while AHE claims that renting a room from an organization does not mean the landlord is behind the signature gathering effort.
Kevin Clarkson, who provides legal counsel for the repeal effort, said AHE hired a company – Top Fundraising Solutions – to gather signatures. Top Fundraising then rented office space from Wellspring Ministries.
They could have rented space from “any other landlord in Anchorage,” Clarkson told the Watchman. “If they had … that doesn’t mean the landlord was involved with the campaign. It just means they are renting space to a company that is providing a service to the ballot group, the expense of which was reported.”
Clarkson said the real aim of the complaint is to divert the repeal effort group from gathering signatures.
In rejecting Kendall’s request to expedite his complaint, the commission has allowed Alaskans for Honest Elections to wrap up its signature gathering campaign. The group needs roughly 26,000 signatures from all across the state in order to put the repeal question on next year’s general election ballot. So far, the group claims to have about 30,000 names, which it expects to submit before the end of the year.
If approved by the lieutenant governor, Alaskans will have a chance to do away with the controversial ranked-choice voting system via a statewide vote.
According to the commission’s Dec. 6 decision, it only expedites complaints when there’s “reasonable cause” to believe a violation has occurred or will occur, and where “the alleged violation, if not immediately restrained, could materially affect the outcome of an election or other impending event” or “whether the alleged violation could cause irreparable harm that penalties could not adequately remedy.”
After considering Kendall’s request APOC concluded that, “the violations alleged in this case do not warrant expedited consideration. Rather, the matter would benefit from a full investigation and report from staff.
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The commission won’t take up the matter until February of next year, which essentially gives the repeal group ample time to finish gathering and submitting signatures for the ballot proposal without further interference from Kendall’s group.
Ranked-choice voting passed by 1% of the vote in 2020 and in a new and highly controversial era of ranked choice voting. The novel change also did away with Alaska’s traditional party primaries, a move widely seen to benefit U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whom many believe would never make it out of a Republican primary.
Ranked-choice voting opponents claim that the new scheme fails to meet its promises of increasing voter turnout or diversity, and instead confuses voters by complicating the election process, while undermining traditional majority rule and abolishing party primaries. When used for the first time in 2022, ranked-choice resulted in the lowest voter turnout for a general election since statehood.