With a ballot measure to simplify voter registration ready to move ahead, the Walker administration says its own online effort already is bringing results, signing up hundreds of new Alaska voters in less than two months.
Alaska launched its online voter registration system at the end of November with the goal of increasing access to the ballot. Since then, 592 voter registrations have been completed, said Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who oversees the state Division of Elections.
The division on Monday announced the new online voter registration system and the hiring of a new language assistant manager for Yup'ik and Gwich'in voters. Also new this year: a connection between voter registration and Permanent Fund dividend applications. Alaskans can click a link to register to vote after they finish their PFD application.
Backers of a separate PFD voter campaign praise the state's work, but say they want to make registering to vote even easier by making it automatic when people apply for their annual PFD.
"We're just thrilled beyond anything that the improvements are being made," said Kim Reitmeier, co-chair of the PFD Voter Registration ballot initiative and president of a group that represents the chief executives of regional Alaska Native corporations.
The ballot measure would go beyond what the state already has done. While the state's new system allows residents to opt-in and register to vote while applying for a PFD, the PFD voter initiative would make registration automatic unless applicants opt out, and would also update their address if they are already registered.
"We are trying to marry the systems so that they automatically talk to each other," Reitmeier said.
Organizers said Monday they have collected enough signatures to put the initiative on a statewide ballot this year. They needed signatures of 28,545 registered voters and say they collected more than 42,000 in four months from around the state. They plan to submit the initiative petition booklets on Thursday to the Division of Elections. Voters would decide the question either in August or November, depending when the Legislature adjourns.
The PFD voter campaign wants to simplify registration and bring more Alaskans into the political process. Partners include the League of Women Voters, Great Alaska Schools, the Alaska Federation of Natives, the NAACP and Tanana Chiefs Conference.
The group estimates that automatic PFD voter registration could add 70,000 voters to the rolls in the first year, and fix out-of-date information for more.
Organizers said the measure has strong support statewide. The group claims that linking voter registration with applications for the popular dividend check would reduce the state's processing costs.
Scott Kohlhaas, the director of the signature drive, said in a written statement that a public opinion poll in August showed the measure had more than 60 percent approval, and that signature-gatherers heard strong support from Alaskans.
A campaign disclosure report submitted over the weekend said the group has received $177,000 in contributions, with $78,000 of that coming in the last three months of 2015.
Labor unions and Native corporations were the biggest donors during the period. The largest contribution was $10,000, from the National Education Association based in Washington, D.C. Several other groups gave $5,000. They included the American Federation of State, Council and Municipal Employees and the political action committee for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
The Anchorage Central Labor Council and the Fairbanks Central Labor Council, both part of the state AFL-CIO, also gave $5,000 apiece, as did the PAC for the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association and the Alaska District of Laborers.
Also giving $5,000 were Alaska Native corporations Doyon Limited and Afognak Native Corp., along with the Interior tribal consortium Tanana Chiefs Conference.
The group has spent $158,000, according to the report — including $84,000 in the last three months of the year. The biggest recipient is Kohlhaas, who has been paid about $110,000 since mid-August, though he had to pay expenses out of that money.
In other changes, elections director Josie Bahnke on Monday announced the hiring of Indra Arriaga as the agency's language assistance compliance manager. The position is required under the terms of settlement in a federal lawsuit over what had been a lack of help with voting for people who speak Yup'ik or Gwich'in as their first language.
Arriaga, who has worked with Alaska tribes and as a consultant, will oversee Alaska's compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act.
The lawsuit settlement specifically requires help for Yup'ik speaking voters in the Dillingham and Kusilvak (formerly Wade Hampton) census areas, and for Gwich'in speakers in the Yukon-Koyukuk census area.