Alaska has made many positive changes to its election system over the last eight years. The only one I don't support will make its debut in the Aug. 27 primary - that's the closed primary law requiring six separate party ballots, one for each of the recognized parties.
The Alaska Division of Elections has been getting a large number of calls from voters concerned about the new primary system. Many voters who don't belong to a party are upset that they must choose one party's ballot (with that party's candidates only) in order to vote on Aug. 27.
Fifty-one percent of Alaska's registered voters are not affiliated with a party by choice, yet under the new primary law, they must choose a party ballot. And because we have the unusual occurrence of a ballot initiative in the primary election (required by law given the timing of the initiative), some independent voters are even more incensed by having to choose a party ballot.
Our election workers have tried to explain the change through a special voter guide, a Web site and media contacts. But the change from Alaska's traditional blanket primary (with all candidates listed on every ballot) is not popular. I expect that come election day, Alaska's 3,000 poll workers will have more explaining to do about a voting law that is not of their making.
Some voters are concerned that poll workers will keep track of who takes which ballot into the privacy of the voting booth. I want to assure Alaskans that the Division of Elections will keep no record of which ballots are chosen by individual voters. All they will know is the aggregate number of ballots chosen for each of the six political parties.
There are two ways to remedy these problems. The Legislature, which enacted this law following a court decision on blanket primaries, could enact a new voting system that allows non-affiliated voters to choose a ballot with all candidates names listed, as was suggested by a bipartisan task force. Or, if the next legislature refuses to change the law, voters who feel outraged by current law could mount an initiative campaign. I hope they do.
In the meantime, voters have until Sunday, July 28, to change their party registration if they wish. And on Aug. 27, our poll workers will do their best to protect your privacy when you select a ballot. I urge you to vote in the primary and then let your elected representatives know what you think of the six-ballot primary law.