Parties ponder primary ballots as deadline looms

Alaska parties have choice to be listed on closed ballot or open one shared with several other parties

Posted: Tuesday, May 04, 2004

FAIRBANKS - Leaders of the five political parties in Alaska have a June 1 deadline to declare whether their candidates will appear on a closed primary ballot or one shared by several parties.

The deadline was mandated by a Superior Court ruling being appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court by the state attorney general's office.

Laura Glaiser, director of the Alaska Division of Elections, said her office would be contacting the parties by letter to ensure everyone was aware of the approaching deadline. Most state and party officials say it appears unlikely the court will rule in time to affect the Aug. 24 primary, so Glaiser said her staff is following the guidelines set out in the 2003 ruling by Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner.

Over the past few years, federal and state courts have made rulings that altered Alaska's long-standing blanket primary system, where every candidate's name appeared on a single ballot.

A 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling forced the state to offer six closed ballots - one each for Republicans, Democrats, the Alaska Independence Party, Libertarians, the Green Party and Republican Moderates, who have since lost their state party status.

That meant that each ballot was limited to three categories of voters: members of the individual political party and voters registered as either nonpartisan or undeclared.

Following the 2002 election, Green and Republican Moderate party officials sued the state, asking to share a ballot. Rindner ruled that parties willing to share a ballot could do so, and later extended the deadline for parties to declare whether they wanted to appear on an open ballot.

The attorney general's office appealed to the state Supreme Court and recently asked to schedule oral arguments, probably pushing any decision beyond June 1.

As that deadline approaches, it appears that every party except the Republicans prefers an open ballot. The Libertarians have already filed their paperwork, while the Democrats, Greens and AIP are either in the process or have noted publicly that they prefer being on an open ballot.

With North Pole's Mike Miller squaring off with Sen. Lisa Murkowski this August in the Republican primary of the U.S. Senate race, Paulette Simpson, vice chairwoman of the party, said an open ballot is likely to be popular again.

For proof, she pointed to the 2002 primary when the state's undeclared and nonpartisan voters flocked to the Republican primary ballot. A total of 32,788 registered Republicans voted on that ballot. Another 41,459 nonpartisan and undeclared voters chose that ballot, as well. Democrats managed a little more than 33,000 combined.

Simpson expects similar numbers this year.

"Ours is the more interesting primary," she told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Scott Sterling, chairman of the state's Democratic Party, said he didn't like the way the primary is shaping up.

"This is what happens when one party dominates the state," he said, alluding to the Republicans, who have a majority in both houses of the Legislature and a governor in office.

Sterling said his party had filed the necessary paperwork to appear on an open ballot and hoped that everyone else would do the same.

"No one system is perfect, I guess is what it amounts to," he said. "But what we feel is if you're going to make a mistake, you should make it as open as possible."

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