Alaska Legislature

Changes to Alaska’s voting laws before the 2024 election unlikely as time runs out in Juneau

JUNEAU — Efforts in both the House and Senate to change Alaska’s voting laws before the 2024 election appeared foiled on Monday, with two days to go until the end of the legislative session.

Sen. Scott Kawasaki, a Fairbanks Democrat, had championed a bill that combined election reform measures in the final weeks of the legislative session. But on Monday, the Senate decided against bringing the bill to a chamber vote, effectively extinguishing the odds that the bill would pass in the current session.

That bill, salvaged from unsuccessful 2022 election legislation, would have established a ballot curing process, signature verification, ballot tracking, language assistance for voters not fluent in English, and requirements to more regularly update voter rolls, among other elements.

Several of those measures have long been called for by advocates who say they are needed to ensure better voting access in the state. The state was sued last year for its lack of ballot curing options, which allow people to correct errors on their by-mail ballots after they have been submitted. And the state for years has struggled to comply with language assistance requirements under the federal Voting Rights Act, even after reaching a settlement in 2013 lawsuit.

Kawasaki said that he had been working hand-in-hand with Rep. Sarah Vance, a Homer Republican, on election-related legislation — in an effort to speed toward passage before the session deadline — but it appeared they had run out of time.

“It’s just, I think, an issue of timing, an issue of deliberation time, and an issue of having enough scheduling to be able to meet the requirements of having a bill pass the House,” said Kawasaki, adding that he anticipates the bill could have “smooth sailing” next year.

Kawasaki predicted that if the Legislature acts by February in next year’s legislative session, some of the measures included in his bill could be implemented before the 2024 election, but Division of Elections Director Carol Beecher, who was appointed to the role earlier this year, said none of the provisions could be implemented in time, even if they pass the Legislature early in the session, because they require buying new equipment and software, and implementing new regulations.


“If nothing passes this year, the division would not be able to implement any of the measures listed in time for the 2024 elections,” Beecher wrote in an email.

Kawasaki said he had “heard differently.”

“It would just be a stretch. It would be very difficult to do,” said Kawasaki. “There are some things that we feel fairly confident that they can figure out faster.”

Kawasaki said that Beecher may be denying that the Division of Elections can implement changes to voting laws in time because she’s only been on the job for three months. The division’s longtime director retired shortly after the 2022 election.

“She’s new, so maybe she’s using the newness of her job,” said Kawasaki. “I think that she could do it faster. I really do. I think she’s just a little worried she wouldn’t be able to.”

But if Beecher is right, that also means that a separate election-related effort in the House to repeal ranked choice voting and open primaries — adopted by voters through a 2020 ballot measure — would also be impossible to implement before the 2024 election, meaning that the state’s next general election is all but guaranteed to be administered under the same new voting system that was first used in 2022, despite multiple concurrent efforts to repeal ranked choice voting.

In the penultimate week of the legislative session, Vance scheduled multiple hearings in the House Judiciary Committee for her bill to repeal ranked choice voting and open primaries, calling it a priority despite statements from the Senate that they had no intention to advance legislation doing away with the new voting system.

Vance’s bill advanced out of House Judiciary but had not been scheduled for a hearing in the House Finance Committee.

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Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The AP and Report for America and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at