Alaska editorial: It's time to change primary system

Posted: Tuesday, August 24, 2004

This editorial appeared in Friday's (Kenai) Peninsula Clarion:

While the state Division of Elections may have worked hard to eliminate any confusion about the primary election ballot, it's doubtful the division's officials could eliminate the frustration that accompanies the three ballots.

Voters, of course, have access to only one ballot. They must choose the "Combined" ballot, which features candidates from the Alaska Libertarian Party, the Alaskan Independence Party and the Green Party of Alaska; the "Democrat-Combined" ballot, which features candidates from the "Combined" ballot as well as those from the Alaska Democratic Party; or the "Republican" ballot, which features only candidates from the Republican Party of Alaska.

The different parties determined who has access to their ballots. Anyone, regardless of party affiliation, can choose the "Combined" ballot. Anyone, except registered Republicans, can choose the "Democrat-Combined." Only voters whose party affiliation is the Republican Party of Alaska or who are nonpartisan or undeclared can vote on the "Republican" ballot.

Voters aren't confused by that. They recognize partisan politics when they see it. And they're frustrated and fed up with it.

While the state's major political parties duke it out with their politics of exclusion, they fail to recognize an important fact: Most Alaskans don't give a hoot about party politics. They want to vote for people, not parties. If that sometimes means voting for Republicans and sometimes for Democrats and sometimes for Libertarians or candidates of some other political persuasion, that's OK with them. Alaskans, after all, used to pride themselves as independent thinkers, not the kind of folks who toe the party line. They want to vote for the most qualified candidates, not a party ideology that they may or may not support 100 percent. They want to see politicians working together across party lines to solve the tough problems of the day.

The political parties should take a hint from the numbers: Out of 458,027 registered voters in Alaska, most - 52 percent - claim no allegiance to any particular party. They are registered either as "nonpartisans" or "undeclared."

The numbers aligning themselves with a particular party should be humbling to all the political parties: 115,104, or about 25 percent, are registered Republicans; 69,182, about 15 percent, are Democrats; 16,066, about 3.5 percent, align themselves with the Alaskan Independence Party; 7,335, or about 1.6 percent, the Alaska Libertarian Party; 4,528, about 1 percent, the Green Party; 4,304, about 1 percent, the Republican Moderate Party of Alaska; and 2,963, about .6 percent, other parties.

What those numbers mean is that the three-ballot primary effectively disenfranchises more than 50 percent of the Alaska voters who don't want to be stuck with a particular party label. The current primary system may serve the interests of the major political parties, but it certainly does not serve the interests of most Alaskans. It just promotes partisan politics as usual.

Unfortunately, the system also provides Alaskans with one more reason not to vote.

The upside is that the three ballots, down from six ballots in the 2002 primary, should promote more discussion on the question: Is it time for Alaska to quit paying for primary elections and let the various parties decide who will appear on the general election ballot?

We say yes. Low voter turnout, the state's budget crunch and the number of Alaskans who prefer not to be affiliated with any party offer compelling evidence that it's time for the state to quit paying for primary elections.

Nevertheless, until such a change is made, your preferred candidates need your vote. Don't forget to go to the polls.

And don't forget to tell your elected officials - and party leaders - it's time for a change in the state's primary system, which does nothing to promote better government.

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