On January 18, the North West CruiseShip Association (NWCA) filed a lawsuit asking the courts to take a second look at the signature-validating process on a cruise ship petition. Many have asked why we pursued legal action. We have two primary reasons: 1) We are concerned with potential flaws in the signature-gathering process, therefore we want to ensure the petition does, in fact, meet the letter of the law before it is placed on a ballot, and 2) A lawsuit is the only avenue provided for a second review of a petition under Alaska law.
In order for an initiative to be placed on Alaska's ballot, it must meet certain state requirements, one of which is the petition must receive a certain amount of signatures from registered voters. The Cruise Ship Ballot Initiative received 174 more than the required 23,285 signatures, a margin of .07 percent.
We do not believe that the Division of Elections has followed any different practice for validating signatures than has been followed for past initiatives. However, the extremely close margin in this instance forces us to review processes that may have worked fine when the margin for certification was several thousand citizens. Long-standing processes sometimes don't hold up in close contests.
Since this initiative will have a sweeping impact on the cruise and visitor industries in Alaska, and because it is possible there were problems with the signature-gathering and certification processes, we, as an industry, are exercising our democratic rights to ensure it is legal and valid. Fourteen other Alaska businesses and organizations have joined our suit because they believe they have a stake in this matter.
Cruise lines currently work with over 1,700 businesses in Alaska and generate full-time-equivalent jobs for more than 12,000 people in the state. These small business owners count on a healthy cruise business in order to survive.
Let's be clear - there are a lot of other regions competing for cruise passengers - New England, Eastern Canada, Northern Europe, California/Mexico and Hawaii, just to name a few. In fact, Alaska's share of the cruise market has been declining. Because of Alaska's location, we are already one of the most expensive cruise destinations.
In order for Alaska tourism to remain competitive, we have to keep cruising attractive to the consumer. This initiative will put an additional economic strain on potential visitors and the cruise lines themselves.
Therefore, we feel it is very important to weigh the implications of the initiative - and very important to make sure it has met all the legal requirements before it goes before Alaska voters.
We would prefer to work through these issues with the Division of Elections using an administrative process. However, the only option available to us is a lawsuit. We are pursuing legal action to ensure all the people whose signatures were certified were actually registered voters at the time they signed the initiative. That is no more than anyone could ask in a close contest.
John Hansen is president of the North West CruiseShip Association and is based in Vancouver, British Columbia.