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PFD voter registration: Let's make Alaska government work smarter

Ever had an old car start to break down? Maybe the filters get clogged and the tires wear down and you find yourself burning money as your gas mileage deteriorates. The brake pads start to squeak, "check engine" lights flicker on, and you begin to notice that ominous clicking sound from what you think is probably the radiator.

If you've spent at least a couple winters in the 49th state, the chances are good this has happened to you. You'd like to ignore the warnings, but you know if you don't get under the hood, the problems with the car are only going to get worse, and more expensive.

The state of Alaska has a similar problem. Our Division of Elections database is more than 30 years old. Even by Subaru standards, that's pretty bad.

Every year we burn tax dollars by sending thousands of voter registration cards and election pamphlets to wrong addresses. We process all voter registration through a paper system that we know is cost-inefficient. And the division estimates there may be as many as 70,000 Alaskans who would qualify to vote but are not registered. That's a lot for a state with less than half a million registered voters total.

Contrast that with the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend system. We have spent millions of dollars designing a state of the art online application system for the PFD, an online option that enjoys an 83 percent participation rate across the state. We have endowed the PFD with some of the most sophisticated fraud detection resources in state government.

We currently use the PFD application database to process hunting and fishing licenses, structure our kids' college savings plans, and make charitable donations, and it works great. But as of now, we don't use that system to make our crumbling elections infrastructure work more efficiently. That's like leaving your 2015 all-terrain SUV in the garage and instead trying to run winter errands in your beat-up jalopy, the one with bald tires and rear-wheel drive.

We can change that. Making our government and our election system modern and efficient is important. That's why a group of motivated Alaskans has introduced the PFD Voter Registration ballot initiative, in tandem with similar modernization breakthroughs in other states.

The PFD Voter Registration initiative would create a once-per-year data transfer from the PFD to the elections division. The division would use that data to register Alaskans who qualify, but are not registered, and update the record for the tens of thousands of Alaskans with out-of-date registration. Any Alaskan who doesn't want to be registered or updated would have the ability to opt out. To be completely clear: PFD voter registration would not make voting a prerequisite to getting a PFD.

The Pew Charitable Trusts' studies have shown that shifting to online voter registration yields significant savings in processing costs, as well as saving money with more accurate mail and trending toward more coherent information and technology platforms in state government. PFD voter registration harnesses the resources we have invested in the PFD system and uses a simple data transfer to make that investment improve our democratic system as well. The PFD division has confirmed this initiative would require only simple tweaks to the PFD online application, and would have no effect on Alaskans' ability to get their dividends.

PFD voter registration is a first step to a government that doesn't make you fill out 10 forms when one will do. Its a first step towards making our tax dollars stretch farther, and using our state resources more efficiently. And, it's a first step to engaging Alaskans, whether they're young Alaskans, rural Alaskans, Alaskans in the military, or Alaskans who move frequently, and giving them a voice in our democracy.

PFD voter registration is about making government smarter, leaner, and as straightforward as possible for the people it serves. To learn more, visit pfdVoter.com.

Kim Reitmeier is president of ANCSA Regional Association. Tim Kacillas is a U.S. Army Veteran and businessman. Aurora Lehr is former vice president of the Alaska Federation of Natives. All are co-chairs of the PFD Voter Registration ballot initiative effort.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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