Ballot measure #1, linking PFD applications to voter registration, seeks to once again change Alaska’s voter registration law which was also done in the November,1968 election. We thought it would be useful to review the promises of the 1968 ballot proposition and see if those promises were kept.
Prior to the 1968 ballot proposition, except for Alaska’s largest cities, voters actually were registered on the same day of the election. There was no voter preregistration as we know it today. This does seem kind of strange to most of us today.
So what were some of the arguments supporting the 1968 ballot proposition and did they actually come about? Let’s take a close look at the supporting arguments.
Argument #1. It will act as a safeguard against fraudulent voting. Precinct judges will have lists of qualified voters before the election and a better means of identifying qualified voters at the polls. Voter eligibility will be pre-determined with a better opportunity to validate voters before the election. Absentee voting will also have tighter security checks.
Fact Check: To date, Alaska has had no voter fraud cases prosecuted prior to or after this pre-registration change.
Argument #2. It will make the election process more efficient and orderly. The number of required ballots and their distribution will be known in advance of an election. Data processing machines, which the state already owns, can be used to store voting records, print registration lists, audit elections, purge the list for non-voters and deceased voters.
Fact Check: There has been a steady series of inaccuracies in the number of available ballots in precincts. In a recent Municipality of Anchorage election, the Assembly clerk failed to provide enough ballots to precincts, denying some voters their rights. And the number of questioned ballots has steadily increased due to inaccurate voter registration lists. This fails to recognize the human element and its failure. Just recently, District 40 voters were given both the Republican and the All Other ballots in the primary election when only registered Republicans, Undeclared and Nonpartisan registered voters should have received the Republican ballot. Other voters who should have been given the Republican primary ballot were denied that ballot until they persisted and their votes were put into the “questioned” pile.
Argument #3. It will increase interest in the electoral process and thus increase voter turnout. Pre-registration is an act of citizenship which tends to arouse the citizen’s interest in forthcoming elections. A citizen who cares enough to register also cares enough to vote.
Fact Check: The 1968 change actually decreased interest and voter turnout. The 1968 presidential election had a turnout of 63% in Alaska. On the other hand, the presidential election of 1972 had a turnout of 53%.
Argument #4. It will help strengthen the two party system. Political parties that now encourage voting will also encourage voter registration. Once the voter’s interest and confidence are bolstered he is more likely to become involved in political affairs and party activities.
Fact Check: Participation in the two party system in Alaska is now more fractured with the majority of voters belonging to neither major party. Matter of fact, the majority of registered voters are registered as Undeclared and Non-Partisan. Registering voters has little to do with strengthening the two major parties. Besides, this is not the State government’s problem to solve.
Argument #5. It will make our voting process uniform throughout the state. At present it is a hodge-podge with only cities requiring pre-registration. Voters must distinguish between registration requirements for city, borough or state elections which leads to confusion and disinterest.
Fact Check: Uniformity of the voting process has been established and confusion and disinterest among voters still exists. Just look at the most recent primary election where many registered voters wanted to vote in the closed Republican contests. Many registered Undeclared and Non-Partisan voters showed up and were told they had to change their registration to Republican before they could vote. Many did change their registration. Why is this the case? It is because the political parties in Alaska conduct their own primaries and determine who can vote in those primaries.
As one can see, the promises of the 1968 pre-registration ballot initiative were broken and never fulfilled. So where does that leave us with today’s ballot measure #1? What are its promises?
Argument #1. It will make the government more efficient and save taxpayer dollars.
Fact Check: Actually, the AK Division of Elections says that it will cost more than $940,000 to implement the program. And it will cost an additional $300,000 every year to manage the program. That is money that the State does not have. There are no hard dollar savings estimated, just anecdotes.
Argument #2. The voter database becomes more accurate and secure. This is because the State will be using the PFD secure electronic verification system.
Fact Check: One does not have to be a US citizen to receive a PFD. One only has to be an Alaskan resident for a prescribed amount of time. Thus, there will be much manual verification required to determine if an individual is a US citizen and allowed to register to vote. (This does beg the question: Why are non-citizens allowed to receive a PFD?). The security of a database has nothing to do with whether or not the information contained in that database is accurate. It’s the old “garbage in, garbage out” concept.
Argument #3. Every eligible voter gets an equal opportunity to have their voice heard in our democracy. The supporters go on to say that “this will protect the fundamental right of every eligible Alaskan citizen to vote”. And it is estimated that 70,000 eligible citizens could be registered to vote.
Fact Check: Today, every eligible voter gets an opportunity to have their voice heard. They just have to take the time and make minimal effort to register to vote. If they are too disinterested to vote, then they probably won’t vote anyway. In no way does this “protect the fundamental right of every eligible Alaskan to vote”. Those rights are protected by laws and the courts. Registering to vote does not guarantee that the right to vote will be protected.
So, are the above merely going to be broken promises as in 1968? We believe this is just phase 1 of a strategy leading to phase 2—voting by mail only. If the State goes to only allowing voting by mail, then many ballots will be mailed out to those who will not exercise their right to vote, just as before. Let’s say that of the estimated 70,000 newly registered voters, 60,000 of them do not vote and discard their ballots in the nearest dumpster. What will happen with those ballots? Will the dumpster become the new Alaska ballot box? How will the State verify if the registered voter actually voted a ballot? That will be impossible.
The broken promises of ballot measure #1 may lead to nightmarish election outcomes for Alaska. And voter confidence in the integrity of the election process may become even lower. That would be a very bad outcome for all Alaska. We don’t need any more broken promises.