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Alaska Legislature

Alaska lawmakers are considering a range of proposals to change the state’s elections laws

Voters file through an early voting site at Anchorage's Midtown Mall on Monday, October 19, 2020. (Marc Lester / ADN)

JUNEAU — Driven by national politics, the Alaska Legislature is considering an unusually large number of proposals to change the state’s election system.

Eight different ideas — two from Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration, three from legislative Democrats and three from legislative Republicans — are percolating in the state Capitol.

“My sense is there’s more energy and attention than ever before. I have to think it’s because of this last election cycle, at least in part,” said Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka and sponsor of one of the bills.

Three of the bills would increase or decrease Alaskans’ ability to vote by mail in state elections, while others would require more financial disclosure from political campaigns or address the powers of the Division of Elections.

Asked whether it supports or opposes any of the legislation, the division said it intends to remain neutral.

Last week, Georgia’s governor signed a controversial measure restricting voting rights in the state. Similar proposals are under consideration in Florida, Texas and Arizona.

Legislators here say there’s little connection between the proposals in those states and Alaska’s proposed legislation. Furthermore, Alaska lawmakers don’t expect fast action, unlike in other states.

The Alaska Legislature is almost two-thirds of the way through its 121-day session, and House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, said he doesn’t expect significant movement before next year.

“Stay tuned in and see what happens. I guess that’s the only thought,” said Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna.

After the 2020 election, Alaska Republicans and Democrats each saw opportunities for improvement.

Democrats, who received many of their votes from mailed-in absentee ballots, have proposed a series of ideas — some carried over from prior years — to expand mail-in voting and to make it easier to vote.

Kreiss-Tomkins has proposed statewide voting by mail, effectively bringing Anchorage’s municipal election system to statewide elections.

Tuck has written a multi-part bill that would allow Alaskans to register to vote right up until Election Day and give mail-in voters a chance to fix mistakes with their ballots. The bill would also raise poll workers’ pay, permanently waive the witnessing requirement for absentee votes and instruct the Division of Elections to count mail-in votes starting before Election Day, delivering results quicker.

Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Grier Hopkins would allow someone as young as 16 to preregister to vote. At age 18, the Division of Elections will send them a voter card, and they will be allowed to vote.

Republicans have different ideas. Many have been inspired by President Donald Trump’s false claims that he was defeated because of election fraud.

In Alaska, the Department of Law has not filed any voter fraud charges related to the 2020 election, but a department spokeswoman said the agency is still investigating some claims.

Last weekend, at a Matanuska-Susitna Borough town hall meeting, residents implored Republican lawmakers to pass “election integrity” legislation.

“They’ve been concerned about it since the night of Nov. 3,” said Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake. “And they’ve been watching it ever since. And watching all the news reports coming out of the other states.”

Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, has taken a leading role with Senate Bill 39, which was proposed before the 2020 election but has gained momentum since then. The bill proposes new security measures, including the tracking of absentee ballots, but more controversially would roll back a program that automatically registers Permanent Fund dividend recipients to vote. That program was approved by voters in a 2016 ballot measure.

As written, the bill would also prohibit some communities from holding elections by mail and prevent the state from holding elections by mail. Municipal elections in some larger cities, such as Anchorage and Juneau, would not be affected.

Shower’s bill was the first legislation heard in the Capitol this year, but it has not yet advanced and Shower said he is rewriting it.

Palmer Republican Sen. Shelley Hughes has proposed a bill that would require additional financial disclosure by the funders of ballot measures.

Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, has proposed a bill that would require earlier disclosure from ballot measure backers and supporters of recall campaigns. In part, the bill is intended to address the fact that no one involved in the recall campaign against Gov. Mike Dunleavy has been required to disclose their contributions.

The governor’s office has proposed a bill that would expand the ability of the Department of Law to investigate elections issues.

Another bill would allow the state to conduct statewide elections entirely by mail in towns and villages with fewer than 750 people. That measure is intended to solve the problem of recruiting poll workers in small towns and villages.

Other parts of the bill would allow the Division of Elections more power to audit results and put into law the requirements for an acceptable absentee ballot.

Thus far, the Alaska Republican Party has not issued an official statement of support or opposition for any of the proposals under discussion.

“Anything that makes voting easier and prohibits disenfranchising voters is something that we’re going to support,” said Lindsay Kavanaugh, director of the Alaska Democratic Party.

She said the party opposes Shower’s bill.

“I don’t think that actually appeases anybody who has concerns about the (election),” Kavanaugh said.

“The best thing they could do is walk up to a microphone and say there was integrity in the election — because there was.”

The Alaska Libertarian Party said it opposes “laws that effectively exclude alternative candidates and parties, deny ballot access, gerrymander districts, or deny the voters their right to consider all legitimate alternatives.”

Because a largely Democratic coalition controls the Alaska House and Republicans control the Senate, any election measure will have to have the support of both Republicans and Democrats in order to become law.

Kreiss-Tomkins is in charge of the House State Affairs Committee, which considers election-related legislation.

“There is no bill that will leave my committee that takes measures as punitive as what I have read about coming out of Georgia,” he said.

At last weekend’s town hall meeting in Mat-Su, Shower told attendees that some members of the Senate may be uncertain about supporting election bills. Swaying votes requires public input, he said.

“We can scream from the mountaintops, we can file a thousand bills. Without your support, it’s not going to happen.”

Follow legislation with text alerts

The Legislature operates a text-messaging service to help Alaskans keep track of legislation and opportunities to testify publicly. Text the bill’s abbreviation (as an example, text SB39 for Senate Bill 39) to 559-245-2529 to enroll in text alerts.

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