Empire editorial: Make ballot-drive democracy more representative

Posted: Thursday, October 28, 2004

In a state that is largely urban and overwhelmingly concentrated in one metropolis, yet sprinkled to the horizons with a multitude of towns, villages and traditions, it's no wonder the little guy wants more of a say in state politics. Anchorage can't and shouldn't have it all.

No one knows this better than the people of Juneau, Alaska's third-largest city, but a distant afterthought for anyone who wants to put a citizen's initiative on the ballot. Juneau has long fought Southcentral Alaska's attempts to swipe the capital that has anchored this city throughout post-Gold Rush days, and likely will again. Before the city again dumps millions into a tiresome defense of its lifeblood, it would be nice to make proponents prove that a broad cross-section of Alaskans supports it and might vote for it.

Ballot Measure 1 isn't perfect. Its requirements, that petition circulators seek more voters in more places, could boost the cost of grassroots democracy. But they probably are not so onerous as to keep most initiatives off the statewide ballot. At least they force ballot-box crusaders to make their case to a fair representation of Alaskans before voters are asked to decide.

The proposed constitutional amendment demands signatures from at least 30 of Alaska's 40 state House districts and from 7 percent of each district's number of voters to cast ballots in the last election. The existing petition requirement for any ballot referendum is just two-thirds of the House districts, with no minimum from any given district.

Beyond Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan - cities that may be at odds with Anchorage or Fairbanks on regional issues but whose inhabitants have much in common with bigger towns - are rural villages and outposts where customs and subsistence are in the balance. No one squirreling away signatures at a mall or on a street corner should command such power over rural Alaska without at least visiting and learning what's at stake.

Vote 'yes' for Ballot Measure 1.

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