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Better governance starts with better elections

  • Author: Jason Grenn
    | Opinion
    , Bonnie Jack
    | Opinion
    , Bruce Botelho
    | Opinion
  • Updated: November 1
  • Published November 2

August Lambers, 3, carries a ballot as his sister Beatrice, 2, and father Jake Lambers exit the voting booth as early voting began for the general election on Monday, Oct. 22, 2018. (Bill Roth/ ADN)

An Anchorage Superior Court judge this month confirmed that a group of local residents working to improve the tenor and efficacy of state government can begin collecting signatures to place important electoral reforms before voters next November.

By allowing the Alaskans for Better Elections initiative to move forward, the court has paved the way for Alaskans to usher in cleaner, fairer and more open elections.

Alaskans for Better Elections is about Alaskans committed to improving our election process to encourage greater participation in government, more civil discussion about our state’s pressing challenges, and increased transparency.

We are citizens working to put the power of elections back in the hands of Alaskans, not Outside special interest groups. We believe government should serve the people, not the other way around.

We have seen an avalanche of Outside money bury the voices of regular Alaskans in recent elections. Outside influence – regardless of source or issue – has turned our long tradition of civic discourse into a mirror image of the debilitating partisanship that has gridlocked our national political system. We now fight over control of state government instead of debating solutions to move us toward a brighter, more prosperous future for all Alaskans.

Money, not issues, drives our politics today. It doesn’t have to be this way.

That’s where Alaskans for Better Elections (ABE) comes in. The initiative includes common sense reforms to improve the electoral process and encourage more responsive and responsible governance. If approved by voters next November, the measure will require full transparency for anyone trying to use money to influence our elections, open primaries to all registered voters, and give voters a greater say in who is elected by allowing them to rank candidates in order of preference.

First, the initiative puts an end to dark money. We deserve to know whose money is being used to try to influence the outcome of our elections. Outside money isn’t inherently bad, and some amount is inevitable. In fact, our group has accepted and will accept some funding from Outside groups. But voters will always know its source, as we’ll continue to be more transparent than the law currently calls for.

ABE increases disclosure requirements for special interest groups that raise and spend seemingly unlimited amounts of money from outside of the state to influence the outcome of our elections. Our elections have been buried in recent years by campaigns underwritten by Outside interest groups and secret donors. Special-interest groups would be required to reveal the true sources behind large donations in real time. That means no more dark money.

Second, the initiative would establish an open primary system for all political parties.

Our current primary system is hyper-partisan and denies voters real choices – and yet it’s paid for with taxpayer money. The system currently gives the political parties the power to choose who among us can vote in their primaries. This reduces voter turnout and confidence in government.

We are not a partisan state. An overwhelming 57 percent of voters are registered as non-partisan or undeclared, while 24 percent are registered Republicans, and 13 percent are registered Democrats. ABE would place all primary candidates on a single ballot, allowing all voters to choose the candidate that best represents their values regardless of party label.

Finally, the initiative would allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference and ensure that the winner is the candidate with a majority of voter support.

Ranked-choice voting is a commonsense reform that saves money, makes elections more inclusive, and discourages negative campaigning.

Ranked-choice voting is exactly what it sounds like: voters rank their top candidates in order of preference, or vote for just one candidate as they do now. If one candidate receives a majority of votes in the first round, they win. If no candidate receives a majority of votes in the first round, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and those votes are transferred to the voter’s next preferred candidate. This process repeats until one candidate has a majority of the votes.

Ranked-choice voting encourages greater civility in politics and allows more people to participate in the process. Voters are also empowered to choose the candidate they like most instead of worrying about wasting their vote on a “spoiler” or picking between the “lesser of two evils.” And the candidate who is ultimately elected is guaranteed to be someone that a majority of the people support. Imagine a candidate who tries to work with all of their constituency, not just their base!

Taken together, these changes to our electoral system will deliver real improvements to how our state is governed.

In the coming months, ABE volunteers and campaign staffers will be traveling around the state collecting signatures and discussing the improvements that the initiative would bring. We will be

signing in support of the initiative, and we urge all Alaskans who believe in clean, fair, and open elections to join us.

Alaskans deserve better.

Jason Grenn is a former independent Alaska legislator. Bonnie Jack is a lifelong Alaskan, Anchorage resident and registered Republican. Bruce Botelho is a former mayor of the City and Borough of Juneau. All three are co-chairs of Alaskans for Better Elections.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

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