Lieutenant governor to introduce bill to repeal automatic PFD voter registration initiative

The legislation will include other election reform proposals from the lieutenant governor
Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer will soon introduce an election reform bill.
Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer will soon introduce an election reform bill.(KTUU)
Published: Jan. 25, 2021 at 6:30 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The lieutenant governor is set to introduce legislation that would repeal a 2016 voter initiative that automatically registers Alaskans to vote when they apply for a Permanent Fund dividend.

Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Shower pre-filed an election reform bill with a similar provision. His legislation would mean that Alaskans could register to vote when applying for their PFD, but they would need to tick a box signaling that that is their intention.

Automatic voter registration in Alaska was approved by almost 65% of voters through the state’s initiative process at the November 2016 general election. Over 70,000 more Alaskans registered to vote between October of 2016 and January of 2021.

Meyer said the initiative created a process that’s “convenient” for Alaskans to register to vote but said repealing it isn’t intended to disenfranchise anyone. Voters would need to ensure they’re registered to vote 30 days before an election, which is the deadline under state law.

“You would hope and think that people had been following the election process enough to say, ‘Hey, the election is coming up pretty soon, I need to go register to vote,’” Meyer said. “That’s the way it used to be before the initiative. I think it’s worth a discussion in the community.”

Meyer said one consequence of the 2016 initiative is that there are now more people registered to vote in Alaska than people who are eligible to vote. Judicial Watch, a conservative foundation, says that is also the case for seven other states.

“Unfortunately, in the past three or four years, a lot of people have moved out of the state because of the economy, because of the recession,” Meyer said. “And, if they don’t tell us that they moved, they have to stay on our voter registration laws for at least four years, and again, that’s a federal law, that’s nothing that we can do.”

The Anchorage Daily News described the complicated annual process of purging Alaska’s voter rolls with multiple noticing requirements for voters.

Josh Applebee, the lieutenant governor’s chief of staff, said by email that Meyer’s legislation does not have any language relating to maintenance of the state’s voter rolls. The current maintenance system is set out by state law.

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, a Sitka Democrat, championed the 2016 initiative as a way to simplify the voter registration process for Alaskans.

“It doesn’t mean they have to vote, and many choose not to, but effectively, we have the most effective, the most inclusive and the most universal voter registration system in the country,” he said.

Kreiss-Tomkins said he opposes putting up “obstacles and barriers” to register to vote by repealing the initiative and is skeptical that it would see a more secure Alaska electoral system. “There is not a single, demonstrable example of voter fraud in recent Alaska history,” he said.

Meyer, who is in charge of administering the state’s electoral system alongside the Division of Elections, also said he didn’t know of any cases of voter fraud during the 2020 general election.

Shower’s legislation will have its first hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee on Tuesday afternoon. It includes a provision that would prohibit some municipalities from automatically sending out ballots for by-mail elections.

Meyer said that idea would need to be worked out through the committee process, but he sounded skeptical about it. “I’m not even sure we have that jurisdiction,” he said.

Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, said he was “deeply concerned” by Shower’s proposal for potentially limiting how municipalities conduct by-mail elections, saying that was a local government issue. “You either trust your people or you don’t,” Begich added.

Meyer said his bill has been written separately to Shower’s but that there were some similar ideas in both.

He said his legislation will be focused on reforming elections at a statewide level and that it would “absolutely not” be about rolling back absentee voting that can be done for any reason in Alaska.

A record 138,000 Alaskans chose to vote absentee during the COVID-19 pandemic, representing just over half of the total ballots cast in 2020.

Meyer’s legislation, which he said will be introduced soon, is also set to include provisions to raise the cost for holding an election recount as he says the current $15,000 figure is out of date.

There were challenges holding the general election during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in rural areas, Meyer said. He wants the Division of Elections to have the option to automatically send out ballots by mail to voters in communities with 700 or fewer people in cases when election workers are unable or unwilling to work.

“I want to make sure everybody has the opportunity to vote who wants to vote,” Meyer said.

Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, was unavailable to comment before deadline about his election reform bill. Any future statements from Shower will be added to this article.

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