The ability to vote in a simple, fair, and secure election is one of the most basic civil rights in America. It is incredibly important that Alaskans trust the process and outcomes of their elections. Currently, there is a bill proposed at the request of Alaska’s governor and lieutenant governor that addresses election integrity within the state.
There are several aspects of election integrity covered by the aforementioned proposed legislation. This post will examine if the main aspects increase or harm election integrity, and if anything important is missing.
Improve voter rolls
Currently, Alaskans are automatically registered to vote if they apply for a Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD). The proposed legislation would end automatic voter registration, which will help to keep voter registration lists clean. According to the Heritage Foundation, a leading expert on election integrity, one of the worst provisions within a currently proposed federal-level election reform bill is automatic registration. Automatic registration is unreliable and results in inaccurate voter registration lists, as ineligible voters may be registered or multiple registrations for the same person are created.
Additional provisions made in the bill require the Division of Elections (DOE) to verify the accuracy of the voter registration lists more thoroughly and to also require regular audits. Recent polling shows that 56 percent of Alaskan voters support an annual voter-roll audit and 73 percent support regular cross-checks of voter registration lists against public death records. Regularly checking the accuracy of the voter registration lists and getting rid of automatic registration will keep the lists clean by properly handling names that should no longer be on a list due to moving out of state, a death, citizenship change, or other factors.
Protect absentee ballots
The proposed election integrity bill provides for several protections for Alaska’s absentee ballots. One simply reinforces the state witness signature requirement for absentee ballots. A second requires further signature verification by utilizing new signature verification equipment. The Heritage Foundation warns in an election integrity report that if signature verification equipment is used, it must “be set for a 95 percent effective rate,” which is not included in the governor’s proposed bill.
In the same report, the Heritage Foundation also warns against a permanent absentee ballot list. The proposed election integrity policy in Alaska would give voters the option to request a four-year absentee ballot and would get rid of the existing permanent absentee option. However, 51 percent of Alaskan voters oppose a four-year absentee ballot and 59 percent support sending an absentee ballot application only if a voter requests it.
Ballot curing, which is the ability of voters to fix minor errors on their absentee ballot, is further protected in the proposed reform. The ability to fix mistakes on absentee ballots, such as a voter not filling out all of his or her information or forgetting to sign the ballot, expands voting opportunities in the state and keeps ballots from being rejected due to fixable mistakes. Currently, absentee ballots in Alaska are rejected if there is no signature or if signatures don’t match. This reform would allow voters to resolve those issues and have their vote counted.
Ballot harvesting, also known as vote-trafficking, would also be outlawed in the proposed bill. Banning this practice would keep candidates, political consultants, staffers, and party activists from handling absentee ballots or intimidating vulnerable voters outside of designated election facilities.
Unfortunately, other important ways to secure absentee and mail-in ballots are not provided for in the legislation that has been introduced by the governor. The state should consider requiring the receipt of all ballots (other than overseas military ballots) by the close of polls on election day; ban the use of unattended, unsecure ballot drop-off boxes; only send a voter an absentee ballot when they specifically request it for every election; and limit the number of absentee ballots an individual can witness. These common-sense absentee and mail-in ballot reforms would go a long way toward providing Alaskans with assurances of security and trust.
Make elections more secure
To further protect the election process, the proposed legislation would require new regulations for regular forensic investigations and chain of custody protocols for tabulators to be created and followed. More clear definitions of election fraud and election interference are also being proposed, as well as establishing training for state law enforcement on election crimes. Initiatives such as these can help make the election process more secure and transparent in Alaska. However, they also need to be executed appropriately – training for law enforcement must be thorough, and proper chain of custody protocols must be enforced by the DOE once implemented.
It is vital that Alaskans have confidence in their elections, and the governor’s recently proposed election integrity bill is a step in the right direction. As long as new policies are implemented correctly, they have the potential to make elections in Alaska more reliable, transparent, and fair. However, important aspects of election integrity are not included but should be, such as banning the use of unsecure ballot drop-off boxes and limiting the number of absentee ballots an individual can witness. Alaskans deserve a safe, reliable election process and for their voices to be heard fairly.