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Alaska’s top Republican says election-reform ballot measure would make political parties ‘extinct’

Voting at College Gate Elementary School in Anchorage on primary election day, Aug. 16, 2016. (ADN archive)

Current and former officials from Alaska’s two major political parties told a legislative committee this week that a proposed election-reform ballot measure would all but erase the parties’ power in Alaska. The state’s Libertarian Party disagrees, saying the proposal would give voters more options.

Glenn Clary, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, said that if Ballot Measure 2 becomes law, “Political parties will become extinct.”

The measure, formally known as “Alaska’s Better Elections Initiative,” is on the Nov. 3 general election ballot. If approved by voters, it would place all state-election candidates onto a single primary ballot. The top four vote-getters in that primary would advance to the general election, regardless of party.

In the general election, voters would be asked to rank those four candidates, 1-4. If a candidate gets more than half of the first-place votes, he or she wins. If no one has more than half, the candidate who got the fewest first-place votes is eliminated, and that candidate’s votes are redistributed to the voters’ second choice. The process repeats until a candidate has more than half the votes.

During both elections, campaign groups would be required to disclose the source of their contributions. Currently, full disclosure does not exist.

“I am intuiting that the reason these changes are proposed is one of the goals of the initiative is to minimize the roles of political parties,” said Kay Brown, a former state legislator and former executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party.

Jeanne Devon, communications director for the Alaska Democratic Party, said that despite Brown’s comments against the measure, the Alaska Democratic Party has not come up with an official position on the measure. For now, it’s “agnostic,” she said.

Bob Bird, chairman of the Alaskan Independence Party, said that organization also does not have an official position.

But Alaska’s Libertarian Party said in a written statement that it “stands firmly behind the Alaskans for Better Elections ballot initiative.”

Party chairman Jon Briggs Watts said the changes proposed by the initiative ensure “more voices, more points of view, more ideas, and more options are represented in the process.”

In 2002, Alaskans rejected a narrower ballot measure that would have imposed a form of ranked-choice voting. One of the sponsors of that initiative, Mark Chryson, said there’s a straightforward reason why the Republican and Democratic establishments would oppose the idea.

“It’s going to take away some of the power from the parties,” he said.

Shea Siegert, campaign manager of the group backing this year’s initiative, said it is not targeted at any side, but Brown and Clary told lawmakers that they believe the proposed changes would eliminate the parties’ ability to select and nominate their pick, possibly violating the constitutional rights of the party and the candidate.

For example, Clary said, the measure wouldn’t display a candidate’s party affiliation unless the candidate specifically requested it.

“People would have no idea what that candidate stands for and who they stand with,” he said.

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