Alaska’s political candidates are flocking to Fairbanks this week for the Alaska Federation of Natives annual conference. Attendees will hear from those vying for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and the Alaska Legislature.
They’ll also hear from those backing Ballot Measure 1, the sole voter intiative on this fall’s general-election ballot.
“I think this is a step in the right direction, both toward a more efficient government and a democratic system that’s more accessible,” said John-Henry Heckendorn, the Anchorage-based campaign manager for the ballot measure.
If approved by voters on Nov. 8, Ballot Measure 1 would allow Alaskans to register to vote when they apply for their PFD each year. Formally, the measure allows the Alaska Division of Elections and the Permanent Fund Dividend Division to share information.
Informally, it would create a small online button on the annual PFD application. Click it, and the Division of Elections would register you as a voter or update your registration with your latest address.
“Really, we’re advocating for a small procedural change … that is a first step and lays the groundwork for future (voting) modernization efforts,” Heckendorn said by phone.
In summer 2015, the Alaska Division of Elections estimated about 70,000 new voters would be added to Alaska’s rolls under the proposal.
Other estimates have stretched between 35,000 and 113,000 — the initiative may also remove dead and ineligible voters from the rolls.
“If somebody has moved out of Alaska and registers somewhere else, they’re taken off our voter rolls,” Heckendorn said.
Heckendorn typically works with Democratic campaigns and initiatives, but Ballot Measure 1 has the support of Republicans as well as Democrats. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, each endorsed the proposal earlier this month.
Murkowski, in a prepared statement, said it “improves the registration system and reduces opportunities for voter fraud” while making registering more convenient.
You have to look to find someone against the initiative — even the Alaska Division of Elections couldn’t find someone willing to write in opposition for the state’s voter pamphlet.
Paul Jenkins, editor of AnchorageDailyPlanet.com, has offered perhaps the widest-distributed opposition to the measure.
In a column published last weekend in the Alaska Dispatch News, he suggested that the cost of implementing the measure — $900,000 up front and as much as $300,000 per year — isn’t worth it to register about 70,000 people who are “too uninformed or disinterested to register” under existing programs.
He suggests that the measure “appears aimed simply at advancing the political left’s agenda.”
It appears, however, that the $900,000 cost estimate initially provided by the Division of Elections may have included a now-completed computer server upgrade.
According to state records, the elections division has spent more than $500,000 on an upgrade completed in time for this year’s elections.
Election Day is Nov. 8. Early voting begins Oct. 24.