The state Division of Elections on Monday verified that backers of an effort to repeal the state's new oil tax cuts had collected enough signatures to put the referendum on the 2014 ballot.
While state election officials say it appears the backers cleared the legal hurdles, a public vote on the highly contentious oil tax measure still isn't assured.
Backers of the referendum for a voter veto of Senate Bill 21, the tax cuts passed on the last day of this year's legislative session, say the law gives away state oil wealth to companies that will produce oil here without the additional incentive. Opponents say the cuts are a necessary incentive for the companies to invest more to halt a decline in oil production.
Once the petitions are certified by Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, opponents of the repeal have 30 days to challenge the petitions in court, said Gail Fenumiai, state elections director.
On Monday, the elections office determined 31,673 qualified voters had signed petitions supporting the measure being placed on the 2014 primary election ballot, according to the division. That meets the requirements for signatures of 10 percent of the voters in the last general election -- 30,169 voters -- and for those to include at least 7 percent of the voters in 30 of Alaska's 40 House districts. The backers also turned in their petition for a vote within 90 days of the end of the legislative session, as required.
"We're not done though, yet," Fenumiai said. "So we're not officially sending any paperwork to the lieutenant governor for him to determine certification. Because we still have more signatures to enter and go through."
Only three people asked for their names to be taken off the petitions, Fenumiai said.
Political consultant Art Hackney, who is opposed to the effort to repeal the new tax law, tried to dissuade people from signing and then encouraged those who already had signed to take back their signatures.
The backers turned in booklets with more than 51,000 signatures, Fenumiai said. Her agency has six temporary workers and three full-time employees working to determine how many are registered voters. As of early this morning, 43,755 names have been entered into the computer and 31,673 passed the test of being registered voters.
Election workers still have more than 7,000 names to enter into the system.
They then must do manual checks to determine if any names rejected by the computer are in fact legitimate voters. Almost 8,000 names already entered failed to match the voter rolls. If "Billy Smith" signed the petition, and is registered as "William Smith," for example, he could be manually qualified as one of the signers, Fenumiai said.
The computer qualification process should be complete by Tuesday evening, she said. By the end of August, her division expects to finish with the time-consuming manual checks and seek the lieutenant governor's certification of the petition for the ballot. The checks also are used to determine that someone who hasn't voted in a while is an active voter and should remain on the voter rolls, she said.
Reach Lisa Demer at email@example.com or 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER