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Elton wants GOP to pay for closed primaries

Posted: Thursday, March 01, 2001

If Republicans want a closed primary election, they can pay for their own, says Juneau Democratic Sen. Kim Elton.

Elton today introduced a bill and resolution aimed at restoring, at least in part, the "blanket" primary that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

"You can keep your own selection process," Elton said. "But you'll also have to pay for it."

The court ruled that the Constitution gives political parties freedom of association and prevents states from forcing them to affiliate with voters of other parties.

Because Republicans in Alaska already were on record favoring a closed primary, that invalidated the state's previous primary system, which allowed all voters to choose freely among candidates, regardless of the party of the candidate or the voter.

Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer issued emergency regulations for the 2000 primary only, establishing a Republican ballot for registered party members and nonpartisan voters only, and an open ballot listing all other candidates, which was available to anyone. Voters could change party registration before choosing between them.

Elton noted that the 2000 primary election, with 17 percent of registered voters showing up, had the lowest turnout on record. He blamed voter frustration with the two-ballot system and noted that it cost an additional $250,000 to administer.

His bill would allow any party to participate in a new blanket primary, but would not require it. "Parties that opt not to participate in the full-choice ballot can pay for their own selection process, be it conventions, caucuses or other methods."

The state is under no obligation to help parties choose their candidates for the general election, Elton said. "There is absolutely no requirement that the state even have a primary election."

It's possible Republicans could pay the state Division of Elections to conduct its part of the primary, he said. Some municipalities do that now.

Elton hopes for action on his bill, or another approach, this year. "It would be totally unfair to Alaskans to not know what the election process will be until a couple of months before."

Elton's resolution would urge all parties to participate in the blanket primary. But Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich has said Republicans won't.

Bill McAllister can be reached at billm@juneauempire.com.



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