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Multi-ballot primary eyed

Republicans ready to end blanket primary

Posted: Thursday, May 03, 2001

Republicans in the Legislature might require separate party ballots in the state's primary election.

The Senate Judiciary Committee this week moved out a bill, already passed by the House, that would end the "blanket primary" system under which any voter, regardless of party affiliation, could vote for candidates of different parties in different races, all on one ballot.

Some change is required because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year striking down the blanket primary in California. The court said the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of association means parties can't be forced to associate with nonmembers in choosing candidates for a general election.

In Alaska, the Republican Party already was on record as wanting to exclude registered members of other parties. Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer issued emergency regulations creating a two-ballot primary, one for Republicans to choose their candidates, available to Republicans and independents, and one listing all other candidates, available to all voters.

Ulmer later convened a task force that included former lieutenant governors and attorneys general, both Democrats and Republicans. The group unanimously recommended the blanket primary be preserved to the extent possible, particularly because most voters in Alaska don't have an official party affiliation. That would be accomplished by listing as many candidates as possible on separate ballots for parties that closed their primaries.

Thus, even though Republicans don't want members of other parties to help choose their candidates, their party members could vote for Republican Moderates, Greens and others, unless other parties also closed their primaries.

But Republican lawmakers are choosing instead to limit each ballot to a party's candidates, which would mean six ballots in 2002. The bill, passed by the House on a mostly party-line vote, would allow crossover voting, if the parties agree. But a Republican who got a Libertarian ballot, for example, would be able to vote for Libertarian candidates only.

Av Gross of Juneau, who chaired Ulmer's task force, told Republican lawmakers he couldn't understand why they would want to prevent Republicans from voting for candidates of other parties on the Republican ballot.

"This unnecessarily closes it," Gross said. "It's contrary to everything I've experienced in Alaska."

Few Republicans stray from the fold, anyway, said Randy Ruedrich of Anchorage, chairman of the state party.

Rep. John Coghill, a North Pole Republican, said closed primaries help promote parties by preserving "the ability to put forward a message."

Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, an Anchorage Democrat, voted against the bill but said little.

"Save it for the (Senate) floor," Ellis said. "This one's better played out in front of the TV cameras."

Meanwhile, Democrats on the party's state central committee have decided to exclude registered voters of parties that exclude Democrats, said state Chairman Scott Sterling of Wasilla.

When told of the bill now under consideration, Sterling laughed loudly. "That's their brilliant idea? That'll alienate everyone. Actually, I should be grateful because they'll drive people our way. People want to make choices. They don't want to vote parties, for the most part."

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



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