Alaska editorial: Don't ask state to fact-check campaign statements

Posted: Tuesday, September 28, 2004

This editorial appeared in Saturday's Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

Recent arguing over the "facts" of the bear-baiting measure on the Nov. 2 ballot brings up a broader point that should cause Alaskans to pause when they open their official election pamphlet, which will be distributed by the state Division of Elections next month.

The wider issue comes into focus when considering complaints by the proponents of Ballot Measure 3, which seeks to outlaw the practice of bear baiting in Alaska. The group Citizens United Against Bear Baiting has complained that the ballot measure's opponents have included falsehoods in their official position statement that will appear in the elections booklet.

What Alaskans should know, and may be unaware of, is that no one at the Division of Elections checks the accuracy of statements submitted regarding ballot measures or by candidates regarding their own election efforts.

State law does not require such work of the division. Nor should it.

The Division of Elections can't possibly be expected to fact-check the statements of candidates and people connected with ballot measures. The effort would more than likely require additional personnel, introduce too many issues of subjectivity, and lead to too many arguments between elections personnel and the authors.

Consider the volume of work that would be entailed in checking election booklet statements for next month's ballot: Alaskans will be deciding all 40 seats in the Alaska House of Representatives, 11 seats in the Alaska Senate, one U.S. Senate seat, one U.S. House seat, several judgeships and four ballot measures. That's a lot of official statements in the various regional election booklets.

Beyond the workload, though, should Alaskans really want their government reviewing what their candidates and other citizens have to say in their allotted space in the election booklet?

Yet the alternative requires faith that a candidate or cause is being accurate with what it spreads to the public through the Division of Elections. These days, however, it seems that voters might be wise to recognize the statements in the official election booklet for what they really are: bland-looking campaign ads.

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