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My Turn: Measure 1 promotes fairer democracy

Posted: Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The framers of the Alaska Constitution did not want any particular part of the state to be able to dominate the initiative process, so they included a geographic distribution requirement.

Currently, to get an initiative on the ballot, initiative sponsors have to get signatures from 10 percent of the people who voted in the last election, those signatures must come from at least 27 of the 40 House districts, and only one signature from a district satisfies the requirement for district participation.

The problem is that Alaska's population has changed quite a bit since the 1950s, when Alaskans were more evenly spread out over the state. Now, the majority of Alaskans live in the Anchorage/Mat-Su area. Of the 27 House districts in which signatures must be gathered, twenty-three of them are in Anchorage, Eagle River, and Mat-Su. Drive up to Fairbanks and get signatures from one person in just four of the six districts up there and you've met the requirement. Not exactly what our constitutional framers had in mind when they required even geographical distribution.

Ballot Measure 1 would require initiative sponsors to go to three more House districts and get at least 7 percent of their signatures from each district. There would be no change to the 10 percent statewide requirement. It would renew fair and democratic representation in the initiative process.

Some have argued that the change would make it more difficult to get an initiative on the ballot. Hardly. Ballot Measure 1 will require initiative sponsors to go to only one additional area of the state. If these requirements had been in place for the 10 initiatives on the ballot since 1998, sponsors would have needed to get an average of only 1 percent more signatures.

If the focus of the initiative represents the interests of more than just those of us in the Railbelt, the people in Southeast Alaska, the Kenai Peninsula or the Interior will more likely sign a petition to place the issue on the ballot.

There is also the argument that good government isn't about making it easy for one segment of Alaska's population to effect changes.

Some have also argued that Ballot Measure 1 would prevent all but "wealthy corporate and special interests" from gathering enough signatures to get an initiative on the ballot. The claim that initiative sponsors would have to fly from village to village throughout the Interior is ridiculous. While many initiative sponsors do hire people to gather signatures for them, there would be no need to spend a lot of money to send Anchorage area signature gatherers to others areas of the state. People already living in Fairbanks, the Kenai or Southeast could be hired as signature gatherers, especially if the issue was one of interest or value to their area. They might even volunteer, if the initiative is truly important to their area.

Some who are opposing Ballot Measure 1 seem to think that the initiative process should be designed for their convenience. Further, that their convenience should override the rights of a broader spectrum of Alaskans. Some have said, "Where people sign a petition has no bearing on whether an initiative passes at the ballot box." Unfortunately, that's true. Under the current system, people living in Anchorage/Mat-Su not only get to determine which initiatives will be placed on the ballot, they also have the majority of the state's voters to pass the initiative.

Passing Ballot Measure 1 will bring the initiative process back in line with the intent of our constitution, encouraging a broader cross-section of Alaskans to participate in the initiative process. If you want to live in an Alaska where every voice counts, where representative democracy is alive throughout our state, vote to support Ballot Measure 1.

• Con Bunde is a Republican state senator from Anchorage.



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