Knowles lets new primary law take effect

Residents will pick one party's ballot in statewide elections

Posted: Sunday, July 15, 2001

Alaskans will have to choose just one party's ballot in next year's primary election. Gov. Tony Knowles on Friday let a bill setting up a new primary election system become law without his signature.

The legislation was passed in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated blanket open primaries in states where political parties objected to their use.

Those are primaries in which all parties' candidates are listed on the same ballot and voters can pick and choose among them, voting for a Republican for governor, perhaps, a Democrat for senator and a Green candidate for representative.

The Republican Party in Alaska had objected to that system because it allowed voters from other political parties to help choose the Republican nominees who would go on to the general election.

Knowles said House Bill 193 went beyond what the Supreme Court ruling required. A task force appointed by Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer recommended continuing to allow an open ballot for voters registered as nonpartisan or undeclared.

Majority Republicans in the Legislature, however, opted for a more closed system. Rep. John Coghill, a North Pole Republican, had said the task force proposal would have discouraged people from joining political parties and would have weakened the party system.

Knowles said he wasn't happy with the final bill, but it is constitutional and the closed system it sets up is similar to that used in many other states. He said the bill will provide certainty that will give candidates, parties, election workers and voters time to prepare for the August 2002 primary.

"But it is my belief that Alaska voters will ultimately demand a revision of this system to more closely approximate the blanket primary we have used for most of the state's history - giving independent voters the widest possible choice of candidates," Knowles said.

The new law requires the Division of Elections to prepare a separate ballot for each of six parties: Republican, Republican Moderate, Democratic, Libertarian, Green and Alaskan Independence Party.

Ulmer said nonpartisan and undeclared voters will choose one of those ballots, provided a party has agreed to let them. The majority of Alaska voters slightly more than 50 percent are nonpartisan or undeclared.

Voters registered with a particular party will get their party's ballot.

A party can allow members of other parties to vote on its ballot. For instance, the Alaskan Independence Party could decide to also let Green Party members choose the AIP ballot. But a Green voter who did so would give up the opportunity to vote the Green primary ballot.

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