OPINION: Baker is a poor representative for rural Alaska

As the legislative session came to a close, Rep. Thomas Baker (R-Kotzebue) cast the deciding vote to kill election reform legislation. As a result, Alaska Natives will continue to have their ballots discarded at a disproportionate rate. Baker’s vote is incredibly damaging to rural Alaska, and I cannot understand why he continues to cast far-right votes that harm his own region.

In recent elections, approximately 15% of votes in villages and hub communities have been discarded for technical errors, disenfranchising people whose families have lived here for millennia. The primary factors canceling their votes are witness signature requirements and a lack of “ballot curing,” which is a simple process to double-check a voter’s intentions for ballots that might have a smudge or stray ink mark. For very good reasons, the Senate State Affairs Committee amended House Bill 129 to include ballot curing and eliminate the witness signature requirement. The Senate ensured other key reforms were included, such as language prohibiting use of artificial intelligence-generated images or videos to manipulate elections.

Together, this election reform package would have ensured that all legal ballots get counted while protecting against hacks or misinformation from Artificial Intelligence. Unfortunately, there are some political partisans who don’t want to protect rural Alaska’s voting rights because they think counting all votes might help candidates they don’t agree with. Forget the partisanship: Counting Alaskans’ votes is fundamental to our constitutional rights and the rule of law. Rep. Baker’s vote on this bill was unacceptable.

This isn’t the first time Baker has voted against the interests of his district. Earlier this year, he cast the deciding vote to sustain a veto of education funding even though leaders from across the region urged him to vote for override. Baker even introduced anti-subsistence legislation that would have put food security at risk to benefit wealthy Outside hunters. Thomas Baker has never been elected to this position — he was appointed, apparently to push the agenda of political partisans from urban Alaska.

We count on the Bush Caucus to act with unity to fight for rural Alaska. Thomas Baker has shattered the Bush caucus, crippling the ability of our rural representatives to act in the best interests of rural Alaska. It’s time to fire Thomas Baker and elect a representative who is from the region, in touch with the people of the region, and who will restore the power of the Bush Caucus to fight for voting rights, subsistence rights, education funding and other issues essential for our communities.

Corey Shepherd is an educator and education advocate who lives in Kotzebue.

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