Figuring out the new closed primary

Posted: Wednesday, August 09, 2000

This year's Aug. 22 primary election will be different than the last one: there will be two ballots to choose from instead of just one.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently invalidated California's blanket primary system, which was just like Alaska's system. In the California and Alaska primaries all the candidates of all parties appeared on one ballot and voters, regardless of party affiliation, could vote for any party's candidates. The decision to invalidate California's primary requires Alaska to change its primary system, too.

In order to reduce confusion on primary day, I'd like to explain the situation by answering the questions most likely to be asked.

Q. Why will there be two ballots on Aug. 22?

A. The U.S. Supreme court has said a state cannot force a political party to participate in a blanket primary if it doesn't want to. A political party has the right to decide which voters will be allowed to participate in choosing its nominees for the general election ballot.

Q. What's a blanket primary?

A. In a blanket primary, each voter's ballot lists every candidate regardless of party affiliation. The voter chooses freely among them. The Supreme Court said a blanket primary allows voters unaffiliated with a party to choose that party's nominees and that this is unconstitutional. The Court said such a system violated a party's First Amendment ``right of association.''

Q. What about other party candidates?

A. All other candidates will be listed on a second ballot, and any voter may ask for that ballot.

Q. What are these ballots called?

A. We are referring to these ballots as the Republican ballot (Republican candidates only) and the open ballot (all other candidates).

Q. Does this mean a Democrat or a member of the Green Party cannot request a Republican ballot but a Republican may request a ballot listing Democratic or Green candidates?

A. Yes. Voters registered as Democrat, Green Party, Alaskan Independents, Republican Moderate and Libertarian are able to vote the open ballot, but would have to change their party affiliation to Republican, Undeclared or Non-partisan in order to vote the open ballot.

Q. Why?

A. Because only the Republican Party has obtained approval from the U.S. Department of Justice for its primary rules, and those rules allow only Republican, Non-partisan and Undeclared voters to vote the Republican ballot.

Q. What if I can't remember whether I am affiliated with a party? What will happen when I go to the polls? What if I wish to change my registration?

A. Your party affiliation (or absence of affiliation) is listed on the precinct register where you sign in before voting. Based on this information, election workers at your polling place will ask you which ballot you wish to vote. In addition, you may change your affiliation now, or at the polls.

The Division of Elections will be mailing to you this summer a notice giving you information about your affiliation. The division will also be conducting an active voter outreach program to explain the change in the state's voting procedures, including information about what voters need to know in order to be informed at the polls.

Q. Will these new rules be in effect for the foreseeable future?

A. These rules are in effect for the 2000 primary election only. We are conducting this election under emergency regulations. The Legislature will review the situation next session and consider legislation offering statutory guidelines for conducting future primary elections.

Q. I understand the state is paying for additional expenses related to this election. Why should the state pay, at all, for an election designed to nominate party candidates to run in a November general election?

A. The state of Alaska, unlike many other states, has always paid for the primary election and the state will pay the additional expenses required this year for the multi-ballot primary. We estimate the change to cost the public an additional $400,000. When the Legislature convenes to consider its statutory changes, I will ask them to discuss whether the state should continue to pay for party primaries.

Q. What if I have more questions about elections?

A.You can call the Division of Elections at one of the following locations: Southeast Region: 465-3021; Southcentral Region: 552-8683; Central Region: 451-2835; and the Northwest Region: 443-5285. You can also visit the Division of Elections Web page at:

Fran Ulmer is the lieutenant governor for the state of Alaska.

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