Voting initiative relies on Outside money

There is a vast spiderweb of faceless, monied Outside special interests betting at least $5 million — about $9 per registered voter in Alaska — that you are dumb as a stump. In a few days, we will see if they are right.

Peddled as nonpartisan election “reform,” the Alaskans for Better Elections initiative — Ballot Measure 2 — is nothing more than 25 complicated pages of legalese wrapped in mumbo-jumbo created behind closed doors. Aside from election damage, how much it truly would cost the state is anybody’s guess. Such “reform” has sparked bipartisan opposition in Alaska, even from former Gov. Sean Parnell and former Sen. Mark Begich, two guys who agree on very little.

The ballot measure, make no mistake, is a sham that would not give us better elections — and it certainly is not funded by Alaskans.

“It’s complicated, confusing, poorly explained, and legally flawed,” former Alaska Democratic Party Executive Director Kay Brown told Alaska Public Media.

“The initiative is an attempt by elitists to control and dictate to Alaskans how our state should conduct our election process,” Alaska Republican Party Chairman Glenn Clary told the news outlet.

Better Elections' Alaska Public Offices Commission 30-day report shows, with a month left before the election, the group has pocketed a whopping $4.8 million in contributions and spent $4.2 million in its ongoing effort to persuade Alaskans to crater the state’s election system.

Where did all that dough come from? Almost all of it — minus nickel-and-dime individual contributions — came from left-leaning special interest groups such as Represent.US, the Action Now Initiative and Unite America. Bushels of money also have come from Voters' Right to Know, American Promise and the FairVote Action Fund Inc. None of them is based in Alaska.


Rather than promote actual, much-needed improvements in Alaska’s election system, such as instant transparency for campaign contributions or a tougher Alaska Public Offices Commission, Better Elections seeks to destroy political parties, institute ranked-choice voting, adopt Louisiana’s open, or “jungle,” primaries and limit political campaign contributions — all to benefit fringe and leftist candidates.

Candidates would not be required to disclose any political affiliation when their names go onto the ballot, thus depriving voters of needed information. It wants to do all that without legislative vetting, debate or input.

What is a “jungle” or open primary? All candidates, regardless of party affiliation, would run in a single primary open to all voters. The top four vote-getters advance to November’s general election.

In ranked-choice or “instant runoff” voting, voters rank their choices among multiple candidates on a ballot. If no candidate receives a majority of “first place” votes, the lowest-ranked is eliminated. Votes would be tabulated again based on second choices, then a third or fourth time, if necessary, until a “majority” is reached.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center examined 96 ranked-choice elections across the nation and found as each round of tabulation proceeds, some ballots are dumped as “exhausted.” That happens when a voter’s remaining choices do not include candidates “still standing” while voters' other choices are being re-allocated. In some races, the center found the percentage of “exhausted ballots” ranged from 9.6% to 27.1%, effectively disenfranchising “exhausted” voters by excluding them in final rounds.

Why are our betters bothering with all this? Initiative backers pretend they want to save us from ourselves, of course. They claim it will improve the chances of an everyman or everywoman who can appeal to wider interests to win office; that it will, by golly, improve election turnout and make elections more civil as candidates try to gain the middle ground; and, that it will put an end to dark money in elections. They claim all that, it should be noted, while using “dark money” laundered through activist groups to fuel their campaign.

There is not much to show any of their claims are true. There are, in fact, fears in some minority communities that ranked-choice’s complexity actually may be a problem. In New York City, N.A.A.C.P. members and the City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus spoke out against ranked-choice voting, The New York Times reported. “They were partly worried that it could hurt candidates of color, and that a more complicated ballot could reduce turnout.”

Maine is the only state using the ranked-choice system nowadays, although there is an ongoing fight to rid the state of it. Several cities have adopted it, too, and some communities have repealed the system after negative experiences.

In Alaska, Ballot Measure 2 would be an expensive, convoluted “solution” for a nonexistent problem. Make no mistake, Alaska’s election system, which has worked swimmingly since statehood, may need some tweaking, but this ballot measure is not the answer.

Even a $5 million dog-and-pony show cannot change that.

Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.

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.

Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins is a former Associated Press reporter, managing editor of the Anchorage Times, an editor of the Voice of the Times and former editor of the Anchorage Daily Planet.