Alaska Editorial: The Supreme Court gives voters a choice

Posted: Friday, August 19, 2005

This editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

Alaska election laws are written by the Legislature. But often enough since statehood, our election laws have been rewritten by the state Supreme Court.

Such was the case again last week when the court struck down a statute requiring separate ballots for political parties in primary elections. The decision is unlikely to change the outcome of elections - at least in the near future - but it will influence the voting experience of many Alaskans.

The seeds of the decision were planted in 2001 when the Republican Legislature, for partisan reasons, allowed political parties to close their primary elections if they wished. The consequence was the candidates were restricted to their own party's ballot, leaving voters, including independents, with fewer choices. (The independents could pick any of the parties' ballots - but only one).

The Republican Moderate Party and the Green Party argued that the law violated their right to associate with each other and with the voters. They wanted a combined ballot featuring their candidates. The Supreme Court agreed.

As a result, it's likely that come 2006 voters will have a choice of two ballots: The Republican ballot, and the Democratic-Republican Moderate-Green and anybody-else-out-there ballot featuring a multitude of candidates.

Writing for the Supreme Court, Judge Alexander Bryner affirmed a ruling from the lower court that found requiring each political party to have its own primary election ballot unconstitutional. In doing so, he said "We have generally eschewed applying rigid formulas when analyzing the constitutionality of Alaska laws." Alaska lawmakers should frame this sentence. When lawmakers have had trouble with the court, they typically have resorted to rigid formulas.

Alaska has a history of spirited, close elections. We also have a tradition of offering voters, the majority of whom are independents, many choices on election day.

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