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Alaska Supreme Court upholds election changes ending party primaries

Alaska’s Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a ballot measure that would institute a ranked-choice voting system for state and federal elections and do away with party primaries. 

The Anchorage Daily News reported the state’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling on the ballot measure, which voters passed in 2020 to overhaul the state’s election system. The justices promised to write a more detailed opinion on the ruling in the future.

Scott Kendall, an attorney with Alaskans for Better Elections, a group that campaigned for the ranked-choice-voting system, told The Anchorage Daily News the decision was a “very clear and resounding win.”

The ruling effectively clears the way for not only a ranked-choice voting system but also an open party primary — putting an end to closed party primaries. All candidates will be placed on a single ballot in the primary, with voters picking one candidate. The top four candidates advance to the general election, which will have a ranked-choice system in which voters select candidates by order of preference.

While other cities and jurisdictions use ranked-choice voting, including New York City, Alaska becomes the second state to institute the voting system for all congressional and state elections, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Maine has also implemented ranked-choice voting for many of its state and federal elections. 

In Alaska, voters had tried to implement a preferential voting system in 2002, but the measure failed by a wide margin. When it was brought back again in 2020, it was approved by slightly more than half of voters, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Some Alaskan lawmakers had challenged the new voting system in court, calling it unconstitutional and setting up a long legal fight that was finally resolved on Wednesday.

Kenneth Jacobus, an attorney who argued against the voting system before the court, later told The Associated Press the system might not be understood by voters.

“They voted for it, so they got it, whether people understood it or not,” he said. “And we’re going to have to live with it.”

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