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Arguments set in case challenging new Alaska election system

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Arguments are scheduled to be made Monday in a case challenging Alaska’s new voter-approved election system, which would end party primaries and institute ranked-choice voting for general elections.

The changes, narrowly approved by voters in November, are set to take effect for next year’s elections, when voters will decide races for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and the governor and lieutenant governor. A Superior Court judge in Anchorage will hear arguments.

The legal challenge was filed shortly after the election by Scott Kohlhaas, who made a failed state House run as a Libertarian last year; Bob Bird, chair of the Alaskan Independence Party; Bird’s party; and Anchorage attorney Kenneth P. Jacobus. In court documents, they have called the new system a “political experiment” and said the judge hearing the matter must decide if ranked-choice voting “negatively impacts the right of Alaskans to free political association.”

Political parties previously have used primaries to advance a nominee to the general election. Under the new system, the top four voter-getters in each race would advance to the general election, regardless of party.

Attorneys for the state, in court documents, contend the system set out by the initiative creates a more accessible primary, and they say parties remain free to endorse whomever they choose.

Assistant Attorneys General Margaret Paton Walsh and Thomas Flynn in court documents also say that ranked-choice voting does not violate constitutional rights because each voter would have the same opportunity to rank candidates.

Some major U.S. cities use ranked-choice voting, including New York City, and Maine uses it for federal races. Alaska’s Division of Elections recently ran a mock ranked-choice election for “best seafood” in Alaska.

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