Alaska Election Reform Explainer

Brochures are displayed at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Anchorage, Alaska, detailing changes to elections this year. 

(The Center Square) – With Alaska’s 33rd legislative assembly starting today, lawmakers in both the House and Senate are faced with driving forward several state initiatives over the next year.

But of all the proposed legislation for this session, one priority seems to really take focus in the aftermath of Alaska’s 2022 elections: Voting reform.

As it stands, eight bills have been drafted and proposed in both the House and Senate seeking changes to Alaska’s current ranked-choice voting system. Of the proposed legislation proposing voting reform, three call to eliminate the current ranked-choice system and open primaries and restore the state’s previous voting approach.

In 2020, voters in the Last Frontier approved the move to the ranked-choice voting system. With the ranked-choice system, voters can choose from candidates from all parties during an open primary, casting ballots for their candidate of choice. Based on their votes, the top four candidates are then moved to the general election ballot, where voters then rank the top candidates, one through four.

Supporters of the style of voting say it’s designed to eliminate the need for a run-off scenario, for if a candidate does not reach the 50% majority needed to win, the election office considers the voters’ next-ranked choices to establish a winner.

Alaska’s 2022 special election to fill the house seat left after the death of Rep. Don Young was the first time the state used the new ranked-choice system.

Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, and Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, have proposed legislation, HB1 and HB4, that seeks to eliminate the ranked-choice system in the House.

Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, also seeks to eliminate the system with SB2, featuring similar verbiage.

All three bills also seek to keep current election restrictions on “Dark Money,” or non-disclosed donations made to candidates seeking to influence voters.

Alongside SB2, Showers has sponsored five other proposed bills that seek to make adjustments to Alaska’s electoral system as they relate to non-resident voting, absentee ballots, voting machines and election fraud.

Shower’s SB1 proposes increasing security during elections while also allowing voters to fix their absentee ballot signature if the ballot is questioned. SB1 also seeks to create a “ballot-tracking system viewable by the public” and a hotline for Alaskans to report voting issues, according to Shower’s proposed bill.

Another bill drafted by Showers seeks to determine the status of registered Alaska voters who live out of state. SB5 would revise the way that the Division of Elections maintains its registered voter listings and require the Division to reach out to Alaska voters living elsewhere to see if they still wish to be registered in Alaska to vote.

SB6 and SB7, Shower’s other two bills related to Alaska’s voter system, focus on voting machine equipment requirements and making tampering with ballot packages a state crime. SB6 would require the state to use voting machines with open-source software approved by the United States Election Assistance Commission, while SB7 would make tampering with ballots to change the result of an election a state crime.

While most of the proposed Alaskan voting reforms bills have been generated by Republican representatives, the concern with the current system appears bipartisan.

Democratic Senator Scott Kawasaki has also drafted similar legislation that mirrors Shower’s stance on reform. SB 19, sponsored by Kawasaki, also looks at making similar changes to Alaska’s absentee voting process while also calling for a public ballot-tracking system. The bill also seeks to create tougher penalties for election-related crimes.