Complaint seeks to halt signature gathering by group aiming to repeal Alaska’s ranked voting system

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Supporters of an effort to get rid of Alaska’s ranked choice voting system are accused of “intentional deception” by failing to properly report their activities, including the involvement of Christian organization, according to allegations in a new complaint filed with state campaign finance watchdogs.

The group Alaskans for Honest Elections is gathering signatures with the goal of getting on next year’s ballot an initiative that aims to repeal the state’s system of open primaries and ranked vote general elections. But Alaskans for Better Elections, which supports the elections system, wants to halt that signature gathering until the repeal group fixes the alleged violations and pays all potential fines. This is the third time Alaskans for Better Elections filed a complaint against the repeal group with the state election watchdog.

The latest complaint, filed Monday, says Alaskans for Honest Elections appears to be using Wellspring Ministries in Anchorage as an “unreported base of operations for signature gathering efforts,” despite public claims by Wellspring that the church was not involved.

Kevin Clarkson, an attorney representing individuals and groups advocating for the repeal of ranked voting, called the complaint “a salacious mash of contorted false allegations,” the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Alaska voters in 2020 approved the switch to open primaries and having ranked voting in general elections. Alaskans for Better Elections was behind that successful push. Supporters of ranked voting say it gives voters more choice and encourages candidates who need a coalition of support to win to move away from negative campaigning. Opponents claim the process is confusing.

Clarkson, a former state attorney general, said the signature gatherer named in the complaint, Mikaela Emswiler, paid Wellspring Ministries to rent space for her work. The ballot group also paid Emswiler’s company $15,000 on Nov. 13. Clarkson said use of the facility is “perfectly legal,” given that Emswiler paid the church for the space, and that the ballot group paid Emswiler.

Art Mathias, an Anchorage pastor who is a director of the ballot initiative, its main funder and president of Wellsprings Ministries, has previously testified before the commission about the lack of involvement by the church in the ballot initiative.

Churches and other tax-exempt religious organizations, like Wellsprings Ministries, are barred by federal law from participating in political campaign activity. But the Alaska Public Offices Commission lacks authority to investigate potential violations of that law.

The commission previously determined the repeal ballot group violated state law by filing campaign finance reports late, incurring more than $2,000 in fines. The panel currently is considering allegations that backers of the repeal effort violated campaign finance rules, including by channeling money through a church-affiliated organization in a way that initially concealed the source of the contributions.

Phillip Izon, a leader of the ballot group, also has filed a complaint against Alaskans for Better Elections, alleging it has violated reporting requirements. The commission has not yet considered that complaint.