In November, Alaskans will decide two ballot initiatives, one to establish top-four ranked-choice voting and one to increase taxes on North Slope oil fields

At the general election on November 3, 2020, Alaskans will decide at least two citizen-initiated ballot measures.

The campaign Alaskans for Better Elections is supporting a ballot initiative that would make changes to Alaska’s election policies, including (a) requiring additional disclosures for campaign finance contributions, (b) replacing partisan primaries with open top-four primaries for state executive, state legislative, and congressional offices, and (c) establishing ranked-choice voting for general elections, in which voters would rank the four candidates that advanced from the primaries. Former Rep. Jason Grenn (I-22), who is chairperson of the campaign, described the ballot initiative as “kind of a three-pronged attack on making our elections better.” The campaign has received financial backing from the nonprofits Unite America, Action Now Initiative, and Represent.Us

The ballot initiative is the first citizen-initiated measure to establish top-four primaries, as well as the first to couple top-four primaries with ranked-choice voting. Voters in one state—Maine—approved a ranked-choice voting ballot initiative in 2016. Massachusetts and North Dakota could join Alaska in voting on ranked-choice voting in 2020.

Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share is leading the campaign in support of a ballot initiative to increase taxes on oil production fields located in Alaska’s North Slope that have a lifetime output of at least 400 million barrels of oil and an output of at least 40,000 barrels per day in the preceding calendar year. According to Robin Brena, chairperson of the campaign behind the ballot initiative, three oil production fields—Alpine, Kuparuk, and Prudhoe Bay—meet those criteria. The ballot initiative would tax oil production using an alternative gross minimum tax or an additional production tax, whichever is greater, for each month and each field. Brena, the campaign’s chairperson, was chairperson of former Gov. Bill Walker’s (I) Transition Subcommittee on Oil and Gas.

With the support of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, ConocoPhillips Alaska, and ExxonMobil, the campaign OneAlaska launched to oppose the ballot initiative.

Both of the Alaska ballot initiatives face lawsuits that could stop them from appearing on the ballot or change their ballot language. Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer (R) and the Alaska Division of Elections (DOE), which oversee state ballot initiatives, argued that the elections-related ballot initiative addressed multiple issues and violated the state’s single-subject rule. In October, Judge Yvonne Lamoureux ruled that the ballot initiative was designed with a single subject—election reform. Meyer and DOE appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share is challenging language that Meyer and DOE wrote for the ballot initiative, arguing that some of the wording “was not true and impartial” as required.

In Alaska, the ballot can also feature veto referendums, for which campaigns have 90 days to collect signatures following the legislature’s adjournment. The Alaska State Legislature adjourned on May 20, 2020, and no veto referendums have been filed as of May 29. The legislature also had the option to place constitutional amendments on the ballot, but no legislative proposals were voted on or approved by the legislature.

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About the author

Ryan Byrne

Ryan Byrne is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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