Opponents of ranked-choice voting start gathering petition signatures

A group seeking to reverse Alaska’s 2020 election reform has begun gathering signatures to put the question before voters on the 2024 ballot.

The ballot initiative is seeking to do away with open primaries and ranked-choice voting in general elections, returning to Alaska’s previous elections rules, which included closed partisan primaries and traditional pick-one general elections.

Ranked-choice voting and open primaries were adopted in Alaska in 2020 through a ballot measure that passed narrowly, with just over 50% of voters in favor of the measure, making Alaska only the second state to use ranked-choice voting in statewide elections, and the only one to combine it with open primaries.

Now, a new group — Alaskans for Honest Elections — is trying to get rid of the new voting laws the same way they came to be, by putting the question to voters.

To do so, the group must gather the signatures of at least 26,000 Alaskans representing three-quarters of state House districts. It’s an undertaking that organizers say will take several months, and it began in Anchorage last Thursday, with an event at Wellspring Church that attracted more than 200 people.

By the time the event was over, many of those at the event were sporting the “rank choice voting” stickers and pins handed out by organizers. Rank, not ranked, as in “foul,” they reasoned.

Former Gov. Sarah Palin, who lost a bid for Alaska’s seat in the U.S. House in the state’s first-ever ranked choice election in November, had been scheduled to appear at the event but didn’t because she was out of state, the organizers said. Both Palin and U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka, a conservative Republican who lost a bid to unseat moderate incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, have, in the wake of their election losses, been outspoken about their opposition to Alaska’s new election rules.

Organizers of the ballot initiative said that they’re confident they will succeed in gathering enough signatures to put the question on the 2024 ballot. They say they intend to raise millions of dollars to launch a campaign focusing on what they see as flaws in the new voting system.

At the Thursday event, ballot initiative organizers Art Mathias and Phillip Izon said their primary gripe with ranked-choice voting is that it is confusing, thus causing fewer people to vote. But Mathias — a Christian minister — divulged that the movement is motivated by a desire to help conservative Republicans, like Tshibaka and Palin, win elections.

Proponents of ranked-choice voting say that the new system does not favor one political party over another, and Tshibaka and Palin’s recent losses are a feature of the new system, not a bug. The voting, they say, is meant to ensure that elected officials appeal to a broad swath of the electorate, rather than a narrower, more partisan base.

Still, Mathias warned that if ranked-choice voting isn’t reversed, “we will never elect another conservative and we will only have outside corporations coming in and buying our candidates and buying our elections.”

He went on to tie the initiative to fights against progressive causes, including public libraries and LGBTQ rights.

Izon said the initiative is non-partisan. “I don’t want anyone in this room to think that we’re a partisan thing. We’re not,” Izon told the crowd. It was a feeble attempt at nonpartisanship in a room crowded with “Make America Great Again” hats and other Trump paraphernalia.

The Thursday event yielded roughly 300 signatures, Mathias said, with more to come from events in the Kenai Peninsula, Palmer, Wasilla, Fairbanks and Ketchikan. But signatures were only half the battle at the event, where attendees weren’t allowed to sign the initiative until the end of a two-hour pitch that ended with an ask for donations to fund the anti-ranked choice voting cause.

“It’ll be one thing to get this on the ballot. But then we have to win,” said former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, who is one of several Republican ex-elected officials who have come together to advise the ballot group.

Organizers said they have already raised nearly $500,000 and that the Heritage Foundation, a national conservative policy group, had pledged additional support.

Michael Alfaro, who launched a political action committee to support Palin and Tshibaka ahead of the November election, said Thursday he had helped the ballot initiative group raise funds. Alfaro organized a poorly attended rally for Palin and handed out thousands of Tshibaka-branded lightsabers last year. He said he was amazed at how easy it was to get monetary contributions for the cause of fighting ranked choice voting, compared to the challenges of fundraising for Palin and Tshibaka.

“We are in the fight of our lives. We are in a fight for our republic,” Alfaro said.

Supporters of ranked choice intend to stay in the fight. “We will continue doing our best to educate Alaskan voters on what benefits we see the reform is having,” said Juli Lucky, executive director of Alaskans for Better Elections. “The more Alaskans learn about the benefits, the more they’ll want to keep the system in place.”

The ballot initiative is separate from Tshibaka’s new organization, Preserve Democracy, which she has said will educate Alaskans and others across the country about the downsides of ranked-choice voting.

Tshibaka has already hosted several events, including a recent fundraiser in that drew a standing-room-only crowd at Bell’s Nursery in South Anchorage. Tshibaka did not attend the ballot initiative event this week, but said she intended for her organization to work in tandem with the ballot measure.


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