SB 39, the radical voter suppression bill, was heard on Thursday in Senate State Affairs. The hearing was a platform for Senator Mike Shower to air out the evidence-poor argument that our current voting system is wide open and vulnerable to an apocalypse of cumulative human error. Shower’s solution to these baseless claims: a tightened and costly voting system that makes democracy inaccessible to more Alaskans.
Legislative hearings during a pandemic take some getting used to. It is hard to focus, worrying that Senator Shower's mask would fall off his nose, worrying that Senator Kawasaki's mask was too thick, requiring him to pull at the bottom to breathe, wondering why the staffer presenting the bill wore a red Kansas City Chiefs' mask to a legislative hearing and thinking Senator Lora Reinbold looked like a Star Wars character in her clear plastic face shield. The voice of former Senator Scott Ogan, staff to Senator Shower and apparent expert on most if not all things, kept chiming from the ether at considerable length, adding to the strangeness.
This legislation would strip local control over elections and reverse a popular citizens' initiative. While its presentation had the air of an absurd dream, it is a very real threat to voting access in Alaska.
SB 39 jeopardizes Alaskan voting rights by gutting the popular PFD Automatic Voter Registration law. SB 39 would create a registration system that asks voters if they would like to be registered to vote, repealing current law that automatically registers voters, and curtailing the intent of the 2016 ballot initiative passed by a majority of Alaskans. PFD automatic voter registration has added over 50,000 Alaskans to the rolls and led to record voter turnout in recent elections. Converting the successful opt-out system to an opt-in system is like trading in your smartphone for a rotary dialer. It calls for reverting to an analog solution with no place in the 21st century.
It is an attack on local control. It prohibits vote-by-mail in certain local elections, stripping municipalities of popular alternate voting provisions, and requiring all residents -- rural & urban, young and old -- to visit a polling place to choose their local leadership.
The first hearing on SB 39 did little to illuminate the rationale for this bill. No evidence of voting fraud, or human error for that matter, was brought to the table. We are left to wonder if this bill, and the problem it purports to solve, is part of a gaslighting campaign to distract from the fact that the Dunleavy Administration and its legislative enablers sought to reduce voting options throughout the pandemic for Alaskan residents instead of increasing them. The Republican majority shot down an emergency waiver of the witness signature requirement for absentee by mail ballots last spring in a COVID-19 relief bill. The state Supreme Court eventually authorized the waiver, over Dunleavy's objections. The Administration discriminated against younger and rural Alaskan residents by sending absentee ballot forms to those Alaskan voters over the age of 65 when it could have just as easily sent ballots to All Alaskan voters.
If the Senate State Affairs Committee is actually poised to tackle problems with Alaska elections, a wide world of reforms is out there for discussion including prefiled legislation in the House, HB 66, which would expand voting access in Alaska. SB 39 goes the wrong way.
Stop Senate Bill 39
Hearings to Watch Next Week
(S) STATE AFFAIRS
Feb 2 Tuesday 3:30 p.m.
*+SB 43 ELECTIONS, VOTING, CAMPAIGN FINANCE
*+SB 25 STATE GOV'T FINANCES: WEBSITE
+= SB 39 BALLOT CUSTODY/TAMPERING; VOTER REG; MAIL
Feb 04 Thursday 3:30 PM
*+ SB 53 PERM FUND; ADVISORY VOTE
*+ SJR 6 CONST. AM: PERM FUND & PFDS
*+SJR 5 CONST. AM: APPROP LIMIT; BUDGET RESERVE
*+ SJR 7 CONST. AM: STATE TAX; VOTER APPROVAL
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