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After a contentious 2020 cycle, the Alaska Senate has several election reform bills before it

Alaska State Capitol
Alaska State Capitol(KTUU)
Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 10:15 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Senate is considering several election reform bills, including one from the lieutenant governor and another from the Department of Law that would allow for the attorney general to conduct civil investigations into allegations of voter fraud.

If Senate Bill 82 is passed by the Legislature, the attorney general could issue subpoenas and compel witness testimony. Courts could also impose civil fines that top $25,000 per violation.

Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer said he couldn’t speak about the Department of Law’s bill because it was written by that department. The department referred questions about the legislation to the governor’s transmittal letter that was sent when the bill was introduced.

Meyer, who was in charge of running the state’s 2020 election, said that he learned a lot from that process and thinks that there are ways to improve the electoral system.

Meyer introduced his bill in early February. The legislation proposes several changes to Alaska’s voting system:

  • One provision would clearly lay out in statute that voters need to provide two identifiers to vote absentee.
  • Another provision would allow the lieutenant governor to hold hand recounts of multiple House district results rather than just the one audit as is required under current law.
  • A third provision would allow the Division of Elections to send out ballots to communities with 750 or fewer people in cases where there aren’t enough electoral workers.
  • A fourth provision would increase the cost of recounts through regulation as Meyer says the current statutory figures are out of date.

After the 2020 election, Meyer held a recount of the results for Ballot Measure 2 to calm concerns about voter fraud. That recount cost $50,000, Meyer said.

One provision not included in Meyer’s bill would repeal a 2016 voter initiative that automatically registers Alaskans to vote when they apply for a Permanent Fund dividend. Instead, voters would need to tick a box to opt-in to register to vote on their PFD form.

Meyer said he supports that change but that it already appears in Senate Bill 39, which has been written by Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla.

Both Meyer and Shower have said they have heard from Alaskans who don’t want to vote but have unwittingly found themselves on voter rolls. The lieutenant governor and Wasilla senator say an opt-in change would be a good compromise.

Several Alaska nonprofits and interest groups don’t agree. The Anchorage National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for Shower’s ouster as committee chair when his bill was introduced. The Alaska Center is also opposing it, calling it a “voter suppression bill.”

Shower has vehemently denied his legislation is aimed at suppressing the vote. He also clarified that the bill would not impact local governments that want to hold by-mail elections.

“That’s not correct, that’s not how it works, and that was not my intent in that,” he said in January.

Shower, the chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, has held several hearings on the bill.

Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and conservative think tank, and J. Christian Adams, the chair of the conservative Public Interest Legal Foundation, both testified before the committee on Feb. 11.

Von Spakovsky encouraged stricter voter ID laws to be implemented in Alaska while Adams criticized Alaska’s voter rolls that have more registered voters on them than people who are eligible to vote in the state.

Reuters published a special report in September, saying both men have been part of efforts to push concerns about voter fraud into the mainstream. Both men were hired by former President Donald Trump to work on electoral integrity commissions.

Shower has spoken of issues with Alaska’s voter roll before the State Affairs Committee.

Gail Fenumiai, the director of the Division of Elections, said the process to purge voter rolls is set out under federal law and state statute. State law could be changed as long as it is in compliance with the National Voter Registration Act, she said.

“We do the best we can,” Fenumiai added.

Neither Shower nor Meyer’s bills currently contain provisions that would change how the voter roll is maintained.

Another concern Shower has spoken about is with the current absentee voting system. He has said that he is not opposed to that type of voting, but he wants to improve it.

Shower said he wants to implement a “chain of custody” so that absentee ballots can be tracked when they leave the Division of Elections until they come back. He told the committee that he would be introducing amendments to set up that type of a system.

Carol Thompson, who is in charge of the state’s absentee voting system, told the committee that there currently is no chain of custody system for absentee ballots.

On Thursday, several Alaskans testified before the Senate State Affairs Committee, saying that they received absentee ballots despite not asking for them. Shower asked them whether they received ballots or absentee ballot applications.

Susie Seibert from Trapper Creek testified that “I am 100% positive that I received ballots.”

On Feb. 16, Fenumiai told the committee that the system to receive absentee ballots is rigorous and should prevent that. “I cannot think how that would have happened,” she said.

Before the 2020 election, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed a Superior Court decision to waive the requirement for witness signatures on absentee ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fenumiai testified that she didn’t believe that change substantially impacted results in Alaska. “I don’t think so, in my professional opinion,” she said.

A fourth election reform bill from Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, would expand candidate and campaign reporting requirements set out under Ballot Measure 2 to include independent expenditure groups, Alaska’s version of super PACs.

That bill has passed out of the State Affairs Committee. It will now head to the Judiciary Committee where members will look closer at whether the bill breaches constitutional provisions that set out what changes can be made to initiatives passed by Alaska voters.

If election reform bills pass the Senate, they could struggle to pass through the House of Representatives. Democrats control key committees and could block the legislation from passing.

Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, told the Anchorage Daily News that the bills would not advance. “If we’re in charge, they’re not going anywhere,” she said.

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