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ANCHORAGE - The state of Alaska plans to vigorously defend itself against a lawsuit lodged by the cruise ship industry over a ballot measure to tax cruise ship passengers.
The North West CruiseShip Association sued the Alaska Division of Elections in Superior Court, challenging the state's process for verifying voter signatures on proposed ballot measures.
A dozen Alaska-based tourism businesses and groups joined the lawsuit.
The complaint alleges that methods for ensuring that only registered voters sign the petition booklets are flawed, resulting in too many signatures of nonregistered voters being included.
Assistant Attorney General Sarah Felix said challengers typically argue that state officials are too strict and disqualify too many signatures. She said this is the first time to her knowledge that the argument is that the state is too lax.
Laura Glaiser, director of the Division of Elections, said she's confident that the 23,460 signatures certified as valid are indeed those of qualified voters. That's 174 more than the minimum number required to place the initiative on the 2006 ballot.
"We met all of our legal requirements," Glaiser said.
The state has until the end of February to respond to the complaint and plans to mount a strong defense, she said.
The lawsuit contends the initiative "would have a devastating impact" on the cruise industry. Among other things, it would tax cruise passengers $50 each, tax shipboard gambling revenue and make the mammoth ships get pollution-discharge permits.
Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, who oversees the Elections Division, certified the initiative Dec. 17. Last week, after the cruise industry sued, his chief of staff defended the process.
"We're confident that the division has done a good job of evaluating those signatures," Annette Kreitzer said.
But Holland America Line's top executive in Alaska doesn't think so.
"We're not convinced that the state's review is thorough enough," said John Shively, Holland America's vice president of government and community relations in Anchorage.
Shively noted that people who sign the petition booklets aren't required to show identification as they do before heading into a polling station to vote. That leaves open the possibility of fraud, he said.
He also said initiative signers don't have to put a date next to their name or say when they became registered voters. That's problematic because it doesn't allow the state to determine whether they were registered voters at the time of signing, Shively said.
The cruise association hired Robert Motznik, an Anchorage document examiner, to run the names on the petition booklets and compare them with the state's list of registered voters, Shively said. Motznik determined that for more than 1,200 people who signed the initiative, it's impossible to tell whether they registered before or after the booklets went into circulation.