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Alaska court decision approves joint primaries

Republican Party says it will have a separate primary in 2006 - as before

Posted: Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Alaska Supreme Court decided Friday to uphold the right of political parties to conduct joint primaries.

Members of the Alaska Green and Republican Moderate parties say the decision allows voters to have more choices in the 2006 elections.

The Alaska Superior Court reached the same conclusion in 2003 when the Green and Republican Moderate parties challenged a 2001 state law forcing parties into closed primaries.

"We're the guys who like open government," said Ray Metcalfe, founder of the Republican Moderate Party of Alaska.

The state challenged the Superior Court ruling but was not successful in preserving the law supporting closed primaries.

With the Superior Court ruling still in effect last year, Alaska's four smaller parties - the Green Party, Libertarian Party, Republican Moderate Party and the Alaskan Independent Party - joined on the same ballot that invited all registered voters.

The Democrats wanted a separate ballot last year that excluded Republicans from participating, but have recently decided to accept all voters as well.

Instead of choosing from three ballots, as in the 2004 primaries, voters may see only two.

The Republican Party of Alaska said it intends - as before - to have a separate primary in 2006, in which registered Republicans and undeclared residents could vote for Republican gubernatorial, U.S. congressional and state legislative nominees.

About 53 percent of Alaska voters are registered as nonpartisan or undeclared.

"People have a choice for a candidate in the general election in November," said Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Republican Party of Alaska.

The Green and Republican Moderate parties challenged existing laws set by the Alaska Legislature that prohibited all parties from being listed on the same ballot, also known as "blanket ballots."

Party primaries began in 1992 and 1994 with the Republicans using their own ballot. Republicans, nonpartisan and undeclared voters were invited to participate.

The Alaska Supreme Court in 1995 said the primaries had to be blanket ballots. Then in 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory blanket primaries in California unconstitutionally compelled a party to allow nonmembers to vote in its primary even if it wished to exclude them.

The Legislature in 2001 created new laws consistent with the ruling to form party primaries; voters in the 2002 primaries had six ballots.

Last year, voters could choose from one of three ballots: a Republican, a Democrat or a joint ballot for the smaller parties.

Democrats allowed anyone except registered Republicans to vote for their candidates because it was party policy to not allow members of parties who close their ballots to others.

At a May party convention, the Democrats decided to move back to the "Alaskan tradition" of letting voters decide whomever they want as a candidate, said Mike Coumbe, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party.

In next year's primary, anyone can vote for a Democrat, Green, Republican Moderate, Libertarian or Alaska Independent Party candidate, and they can do so with a single ballot.

"We would invite Republicans to join us on an open ballot," Coumbe said.

Ruedrich said the Republican primary is open to undeclared voters and anyone who wants to change their party affiliation. He said in previous elections, thousands of Alaska Independent Party and hundreds of Republican Moderate and Libertarian voters re-registered with the Republicans to vote in the primaries.

The party does not want Democrats to vote for Republican primary candidates, Ruedrich said.

Michael Macleod-Ball, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who handled the case, said the Alaska Supreme Court determined that prohibiting blanket primaries was just as impermissible as mandating them.

In the last election, the Green and the Republican Moderate parties ran seven or eight candidates each.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com



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