Alaska Editorial: Valid change in initiative signature gathering

Posted: Monday, January 09, 2006

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

The difficulty that backers of some initiative petitions are having in gathering signatures is something to be applauded - not because of anything having to do with the merits of their ideas but because the difficulty could be evidence that changes made by voters to the initiative process in 2004 are doing what they were meant to do.

Only two of the six active initiative petition drives have collected the required number of signatures to get on the November 2006 ballot, according to organizers. The others have been hampered by late starts and the new rules, though their backers still hope to obtain the required 31,451 signatures by the Jan. 9 deadline to make next year's ballot. Otherwise, they will have to wait until the 2008 election.

Under the new system, for which the 2006 election will be the first application of the changes approved in 2004, petition signatures must come from at least 30 of Alaska's 40 House districts. That's up from 27 prior to the changes. Also, the number within each district must be equal or greater to 7 percent of the total number who voted in the previous general election in that House district. The total number of required signatures doesn't change, however; signatures must still equal 10 percent of the number who voted in the previous statewide general election.

The idea behind the changes was to ensure that citizen initiatives are driven primarily by the desires of Alaskans. A major argument in the campaign in favor of the changes in 2004 was that Outside groups would mobilize for a particular cause and concentrate their efforts in the state's population centers of Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau to the exclusion of rural areas. ...

Voters approved the changes to the initiative process 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent, a comfortable but not large margin. But the changes had strong support in the Interior, with the outcome in each of the region's seven House districts decided in favor of the changes by at least a decent measure and in some cases by much more.

Those who might complain about the new requirements for signature gathering might want to think about the poor ol' voter, however. Having fewer initiatives on the ballot will mean that voters can give more attention to those that have qualified. Voters won't have to listen to, watch or read as many claims and counterclaims. The overall electoral noise could be few decibels lowers and its content a bit more cerebral.

And that will be another welcome change.

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