We live in the digital age. With a few clicks of the mouse or finger taps on a smartphone we have access to a wealth of information that was unimaginable just a few years ago. An entire generation has grown up with the Internet, and it seems like there is an app for everything. You may even be reading this on your smartphone right now.
But there is one aspect of our lives that has not embraced the digital transition. And it relates to the most important aspect of our democracy: voting. For some reason, we Alaskans cannot register to vote without printing out a piece of paper and mailing it to the State Division of Elections. It is hard to believe we are still dealing with such an anachronism, especially when we have been able to apply for our annual Permanent Fund dividend (PFD) online, through a secure platform, for a decade (something over 83 percent of Alaskans now do).
Fortunately, we can change this.
The State of Alaska collects all the information it needs to register you to vote when you file for your PFD. However, over 70,000 adult Alaskans currently collect the PFD without also being registered to vote. Forcing Alaskans to file multiple forms with the exact same information is inefficient and unnecessary.
Here is where you come in.
Until January 2016, the start of the next state Legislative session, you can sign the PFD Voter Initiative to put this question on the ballot in August 2016. This initiative, if implemented, would allow prospective voters to create or update their voter registration using the information provided while filing for their PFD. This initiative will consolidate duplicative state functions and improve access to the polls for all Alaskans.
This initiative will not change any of the existing systems for registering to vote (you can still apply by paper if you desire), and it will not force people to vote if they do not want to. You can opt out of the process altogether if you want. The Pick.Click.Give program, which allows Alaskans to donate a portion of their PFD to the charitable causes they care about, has already partnered with the PFD program with resounding success. It is time to replicate this success with voter registration.
We young Alaskans think this is a no brainer. We already shop, read, watch TV, socialize and even pay our bills online. It seems like common sense that we should be able to participate in our government with similar ease and efficiency. We are passionate about our state and are working hard to make it a better place. We recognize that the benefit of getting our PFD check comes with the responsibility of holding our elected officials accountable through civic participation. The PFD Voter Initiative can help turn this idea into a reality.
In these times of fiscal belt-tightening, we welcome ideas that make government more efficient over the long-term and cut down on unnecessary bureaucracy. We urge you to sign the PFD Voter Initiative, so that we all can thrive in a more engaged state. If you are interested in learning more or getting involved, please visit www.pfdvoter.com.
Penny Gage, Katherine Jernstrom and Erin Harrington are the founding members of Our Alaska, an informal, nonpartisan coalition of rising-generation Alaskans, collaborating on vision and action for a better future for Alaska. Other members include Eric Van Oss, Kennis Brady, Kim Hays, Ian Laing, Andrew Cutting, Gretchen Fauske, John-Henry Heckendorn, Stephen Trimble, Aimee Chauvot, Shanna Zuspan, Kirk Rose, Harry Need, Austin Quinn-Davidson, Brad Dickerson, Emily Tyrrell, Agatha Erickson, Brendan Babb, Jason Brandeis, Evon Peter, Matt Rafferty, Corey Hester, Jenny Di Grappa, Dani Bickford and Loren Peterson.