How much does Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Shower respect your right to vote? Not very much, it turns out. Rather than doing the hard work of figuring out how our state will weather the current economic crisis, he and his Republican friends are focused on trying to fix things that aren’t broken.
Sen. Shower’s pet project, Senate Bill 39, is a good example of their wastefulness. If SB 39 is adopted, it will directly overturn an overwhelmingly popular election reform Alaska voters adopted only five years ago.
In 2016, voters approved a ballot initiative that increased our rate of voter registration and voter participation. This ballot measure was a stroke of genius and Alaskans voted for it by a nearly two-to-one margin. The measure for the first time linked the voter registration process to the Permanent Fund dividend application process in two important ways: First, adults eligible to vote are automatically registered to vote when submitting a PFD application unless they say they don’t want to be registered. Second, adults already registered have their voting registration information automatically updated if their PFD address changes again, unless they say they don’t want their voter registration information updated. Now voters don’t have to separately register to vote or separately update their voter registration information because the changes are made automatically with their PFD application. All of this makes it simpler to register to vote and easier to maintain accurate voter lists. Now more Alaskans are registered to vote. And of course, eliminating unnecessary registration hassles mean more Alaskans show up to vote on election day.
But Sen. Shower and his Republican friends are trying to eliminate Alaska’s PFD automatic voter registration law. SB 39, if passed, will make it harder for Alaskans to vote at a time when government needs to hear from the voters more than ever. Right now, Alaska spends more on its prisons than on its university system and our governor proposes unsustainably large dividends, presses for massive budget cuts, sells our fast ferries and wants to close Division of Motor Vehicles offices. The bureaucracy required to implement SB 39 would increase the size of state government when we can least afford to waste our limited financial resources tilting at windmills.
Sen. Shower has tried mightily to justify restricting voting rights with wholly unsubstantiated claims from outsiders that Alaska elections are prone to fraud, error and mistake. But these Outside groups don’t know the facts on the ground here in Alaska and are really just pushing their own voter-suppression agenda. The record is that Alaska elections have always been secure. Having automatic voter registration has not made them less secure. The Alaska Division of Elections does a good job running our elections and the automatic PFD voter registration law makes their job easier, more efficient and far less costly. Just as importantly, Alaska is already on top of what little election fraud there is. The Alaska Department of Law is responsible for investigating and prosecuting election fraud, and has charged former Alaska Republican Rep. Gabrielle R. LeDoux for her alleged fraudulent voter misconduct.
Registering to vote and voting should not be difficult, and Republicans should not be allowed to suppress votes by making it harder to vote. No party should limit voter participation just because having more voters makes it harder for their candidates to win elections. Hardworking Alaskans, young people, seniors and rural residents, all struggling to support their families in this time of pandemic and massive budget cuts, deserve better. They should have a Legislature focused on the real problems facing the state and not one that wastes time looking for partisan solutions to imaginary problems.
Contact your senator and your representative and tell them you oppose SB 39 and Sen. Shower’s efforts to undermine the will of the people. You can learn how to contact your legislators by calling (907) 269-0111.
Kevin F. McCoy has lived in Alaska since 1976, practiced law in the state for 44 years, and is now retired.
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