Major Political Reform Case Before Alaska Supreme Court Today

Voters in Alaska adopted a top-four primary election structure and ranked-choice voting in the general election as a way to reward candidates with the broadest electoral appeal. Those reforms have been challenged under the state constitution, with the state supreme court hearing arguments today. This story from the Anchorage Daily News provides coverage:

As partisan warfare has become the norm in state legislatures and Congress, Alaska is set to embark on an experiment to see if voters themselves can disarm the combatants.

A new election system, narrowly passed by voters in 2020 and set to be used in this year’s races, is aimed at getting candidates to appeal to a broad range of voters beyond their traditional base. The system would end party primaries and send the top four vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, to the general election, where ranked-choice voting would determine a winner.

The model is unique among states and viewed by supporters as a way to encourage civility and cooperation among elected officials. A sponsor of the initiative, Republican-turned-independent former state lawmaker Jason Grenn, called Alaska a test case “in a major way” for similar efforts being considered in other states, including Nevada….

Scott Kendall, an attorney who helped write the ballot initiative, said working across party lines seems to be part of Alaska’s “political DNA.” He cited as an example the late Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, who once said his motto during his decades in Congress had been “to hell with politics; just do what’s right for Alaska.” One of the state’s current U.S. senators, Republican Lisa Murkowski, also is known for being able to work with Democrats on some issues and occasionally bucks her own party.

Kendall said he sees the potential for new legislative alliances and coalitions under the system and for those to become more of the norm. A reliably Republican or Democratic district isn’t likely to flip, but the kind of lawmaker elected to represent that district could become more collaborative, he said.

“I think it’s actually going to punish people when they are obstructionists just for the sake of obstruction,” he said….

The House has struggled after the last two election cycles to organize a majority, similar to political dynamics that play out in other countries. That has made governing difficult — for example, the chamber took a month to elect a speaker in 2019 and nearly as long last year.

Republicans who joined Democrats and independents as part of a coalition in recent years have faced backlash from within their party. Many of them have been censured, labeled turncoats or lost primaries.

Grenn, who served one term in the legislature, said party primaries the last four years have been used as a “weapon” to punish lawmakers who have worked in a bipartisan fashion or who don’t vote in lockstep with their party platform. The new election system would promote working together, he said.

“Now … as opposed to worrying about my primary and having someone outflank me on the right or the left, now I can think about good policy because I will be rewarded for that,” he said.

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