The Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) ruled in favor of former U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka in allegations made by the pro-ranked choice voting group, Alaskans for Better Elections (ABE), against both her and an organization she leads, Preserve Democracy.
APOC staff initially recommended that APOC commissioners fine Preserve Democracy more than $23,000 for language on a website that said election systems should be “easy to understand and accessible to everyone.”
Tshibaka appealed the issue to the commission, arguing that the staff’s recommended fine violated her constitutional rights because it was not based on the website language, but based on free speech comments she made opposing ranked-choice voting at events not covered by APOC’s jurisdiction.
Tshibaka also pointed out that APOC’s attorneys argued in favor of her same position before the Alaska Supreme Court last fall, saying that it only has the right to regulate expenditures that exhort Alaskans to vote for or against ballot measures. Since the website said nothing to Alaskans about how to vote and there is no matter pending on a ballot about RCV, Tshibaka argued APOC has no jurisdiction and regulating her speech is therefore a violation of her First Amendment rights.
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The APOC Commission agreed with Tshibaka and completely dismissed ABE’s allegations and the staff’s recommended fine. The commission also found no evidence that Tshibaka ever operated as a lobbyist. The Commission further determined that Tshibaka and Preserve Democracy ran a non-partisan get-out-the-vote campaign that did not trigger APOC reporting requirements.
“Today is a victory for the Constitution,” Tshibaka said. “It is the responsibility of the American People to protect Free Speech from being trampled by government. In this case, APOC’s staff were spurred along by ranked-choice voting advocates to trample on the free speech protections of the Constitution. But Preserve Democracy and I took a stand for free speech by challenging this government overreach. Fortunately, the APOC Commissioners saw through ABE’s disinformation, unconstitutional attacks, and frivolous allegations to discern the truth and protect all of our constitutional rights.”