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AFN board of directors recommends Alaska Natives drop party affiliation, switch to undeclared

Posted: October 23, 2011 - 12:11am

ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Federation of Natives’ board of directors is recommending that Alaska’s indigenous people drop their party affiliations and switch their voter registrations to undeclared.

The board made its proposal in a draft resolution at this week’s convention at the Dena’ina Convention Center in Anchorage. The board represents indigenous people in nearly 180 communities across the state.

Undeclared voters can choose to vote for Democrats or Republicans in primary elections. The board maintains switching to undeclared will allow Alaska Native voters to support candidates that most fully support their positions on the issues, the Anchorage Daily News reported Friday.

Delegates will vote on the proposal and about 50 others Saturday on the final day of AFN’s three-day annual convention. The resolutions are nonbinding but signal the collective will of the state’s largest association of Alaska Natives.

Former AFN President Byron Mallott, who helped lead Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s successful write-in campaign in the last election, said he supports the proposal, which would allow voters to participate in the closed Republican primaries that typically favor more conservative candidates.

Fairbanks Republican Joe Miller defeated Murkowski in the primary only to lose to the incumbent in the general election after the unprecedented write-in campaign waged at last year’s AFN convention and across the state.

In Alaska, any registered voter can choose the primary ballot that includes Democrats, members of the Alaskan Independence Party and Libertarian candidates. Only registered nonpartisan, undeclared and Republican voters can choose the Republican primary ballot, according to the Division of Elections.

“It may be in this day and age just an urban myth that most Alaska Natives are registered Democrats,” Mallott said. “For example, I’ve been registered undeclared for at least a dozen years.”

Alaska Republican Party chairman Randy Ruedrich said there could be an unexpected benefit to the proposal by AFN’s 37-member leadership.

“Rural Alaska voter turnout has always been low in the primary,” Ruedrich said. “This might increase voter turnout, which is good — gives them one more reason to potentially vote.”

Otherwise, Ruedrich said the change would have little impact, given that there are relatively few registered Democrats in rural Alaska and only a portion of those are Alaska Native.

Alaska Democratic Party Chairwoman Patti Higgins said the closed Republican primary is moving the Republicans “toward the most extreme voices in their party.”

But the proposal by the AFN board is not the solution, she said. For example, only registered Democrats can hold office within the state party organization, and voters would lose that ability if they switch affiliation.

“People ought to be able to vote for and support whoever they want to, without changing or hiding who they are,” Higgins said.

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