Wasilla Republican senator’s election bill sparks calls for his ouster as committee chair, but he says it’s about election integrity

The Anchorage NAACP says Sen. Mike Shower’s bill would disenfranchise Alaskans
The Anchorage NAACP is calling for Sen. Mike Shower to be removed as State Affairs committee...
The Anchorage NAACP is calling for Sen. Mike Shower to be removed as State Affairs committee chair over his election reform bill.(KTUU)
Published: Jan. 26, 2021 at 7:35 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Following the introduction of a controversial election reform bill, the Anchorage National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is calling for Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, to be removed as the chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Shower introduced a similar bill in 2019, but that legislation did not receive any committee hearings. He says he has continued working on the 2021 version of that legislation as a way to better ensure election integrity in Alaska.

“Let’s find out where those weak areas are and let’s debate it, and if there’s areas with good solutions, we can try to do that,” Shower said.

The legislation contains over two dozen provisions; two, in particular, have received vocal pushback from some quarters.

One provision would repeal a 2016 initiative that automatically registers Alaskans to vote when they apply for a Permanent Fund dividend. Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer is set to introduce a bill that would do the same thing.

Another of Shower’s provision is currently written to prohibit some municipalities from automatically sending out ballots by mail for local elections, but that could change during the committee process.

Kevin McGee, the president of the Anchorage NAACP, is calling on Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, to remove Shower as chair of Senate State Affairs. ”This is a preemptive approach, by any means possible, to lessening the turnout to vote. That’s my feelings, and I feel that deep in my heart,” he said.

McGee believes the legislation is part of a nationwide Republican effort to suppress minorities from voting.

“He’s not going to convince me that it’s not going to have an impact on the opportunities for people to vote,” McGee said. “There’s nothing in the world that’s going to convince me that it’s not going to have a negative impact.”

Shower vehemently denies the bill is about voter suppression or ending by-mail voting. He also rejected calls for his ouster as committee chair.

“I thought the call over the past few weeks has been for civil discourse, unity, healing,” he said. “If you don’t like what I’m doing, that’s fine, but let’s debate it civilly like adults and come to agreement or disagreement on the issues, but we shouldn’t be afraid to talk.”

Shower said the bill is meant to be non-partisan. It’s intended to review how elections can be done more securely, particularly after 113,000 Alaskan voters had their data breached during the last election.

Shower said his bill is not driven by the last election cycle, but that his office had received calls and messages about recent election “irregularities” in Alaska. He said those potential “irregularities” would be examined through the committee process to help the state’s election system in the future.

“Remember, we didn’t say everything is fraud, but there’s potential for error,” he said. “And that means your election is not as secure or fair, and that’s something citizens have concerns with.”

Under Shower’s proposal, Alaskans could still register to vote when applying for their dividends, but it wouldn’t be automatic with an opt-out option. “We’re making it simply an opt-in provision to account for those who don’t want to be registered, for whatever their reasons are,” he said.

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, championed the 2016 initiative and said he opposes putting up any “obstacles and barriers” to registering to vote. “There is not a single, demonstrable example of voter fraud in recent Alaska history,” he said.

The lieutenant governor said he also knew of no cases of fraud at the 2020 general election.

For municipal elections, Shower said the provision that would prohibit automatically sending out ballots by mail would not apply to Home Rule cities like Anchorage and Juneau. “That’s not correct, that’s not how it works, and that was not my intent in that,” he added.

The current provision would prohibit other local governments from automatically sending out ballots by mail. It could change through the committee process. “If we go through this and find out a place doesn’t want it, or they want an exemption, that’s fine,” Shower said.

There will also be additional details announced later on how to better secure by-mail voting and to ensure the recent data breach doesn’t jeopardize future elections, he added.

“Our goal is to put everything on the table, and have the broader debate. Some things may stay in the bill, some things may get stripped out. It will probably look different in the end, but the goal is to discuss all of it,” Shower said.

Meyer, walking away from Shower’s office on Tuesday, declined to comment on the statement from the Anchorage NAACP which demanded Shower’s ouster from State Affairs. Meyer said the bill is in its early stages and would change through the committee process.

Micciche did not respond to a request for comment on the ouster request before deadline.

McGee, who hasn’t spoken to Shower about his legislation, isn’t convinced these election bills are good faith efforts to improve voting in Alaska. “I don’t want to get on my soapbox, but this kind of stuff irks the hell out of me because people don’t take this serious enough and don’t take to reading in between the lines,” he said.

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