A November ballot measure could radically change the way Alaskans pick their elected leaders. Only one person called in on Monday during an open hearing for Southeast Alaskans.
If passed, Measure 2’s changes would be threefold: first, it would replace separate party primary ballots with one that’s open to all candidates.
Scott Kendall, spokesman for Alaskans for Better Elections, says that would end some of the most competitive races being decided by a limited group of partisan voters.
“Every candidate gets on the same ballot regardless of party and every voter receives the same ballot regardless of party,” Kendall said during a state hearing for Southeast Alaskans on Monday. “You simply vote for your favorite in every race, and the top four vote getters regardless of their party when advanced to the general election.”
Then in November, voters would rank their choices in order of preference. And if nobody wins more than 50% of first-choice votes, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated, and voters who chose that candidate first have their second choice counted. That process continues until one candidate receives majority support.
Kendall, who served as independent former Governor Bill Walker’s chief of staff, says the third part of the initiative would increase disclosure requirements for hard-to-trace dark money supporting political candidates.
“That’s money that goes into our election system,” he said. “And because of the way it’s transferred through several nonprofit groups, you really that the voting public has no way of knowing where the money actually came from.”
The Yes on 2 camp is well-funded with more than $1 million coming from a centrist political group funded by Kathryn Murdoch [mer-dock], a daughter-in-law of media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
In Alaska, several prominent politicians have lined up to oppose the measure because as it would reduce political parties’ influence.
“Former Governor Sean Parnell and former Senator Mark Begich have called rank choice voting political trickery,” said Brett Huber, a former campaign manager for Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
He’s a spokesman for Defend Alaska Elections — which opposes the measure. Its largest donors include state and national Republican party groups as well as conservative organizations like the Club for Growth and the Koch brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity.
Huber argues that the current party primary system works, with ranked choice relatively unproven.
“The net effect of this system is to take something that’s known, understood transparent and fair in Alaskans’ mind and turn it into an experiment that’s failed in other areas — and let us deal with the aftermath,” Huber said.
Under the current system, voters registered nonpartisan or undeclared can request any party’s ballot. That was an issue raised by cartoonist Pat Race, the only member of the public to testify in the hearing.
Race says his House district in Juneau often has competitive Democratic primaries whereas statewide races for governor or Congress have competitive contests between Republicans. And as a nonpartisan he can’t vote in both primaries at once.
“It puts me in the position of having to choose which ballot I want to vote on, and which races I want to influence,” said Race, who serves on a steering committee for the ballot measure’s proponents. “Which is really hard, because a lot of these races are decided in the primary elections.”
The initiative would change that by allowing all primary voters to choose their top choices in each race regardless of party affiliation. Measure 2 will appear on the November 3 ballot.
That’s following an unsuccessful challenge by Alaska’s former attorney general that was dismissed by the Alaska Supreme Court.
Hearings on ballot measures will continue this week with different days and times depending where Alaskans live. Full details are here.
Editor’s Note: The headline of this article has been corrected.