It is an open question whether the winter will end this year out in the peaks and valleys and burbs and burgs and bays and straits and streams and swales of Alaska. Bills that resemble spring are few and far between in the Alaska State Legislature: buds that bring hope for a new beginning, a strong future. One such bill, HB 66, which seeks to bloom and grow Democracy in Alaska, has lain dormant in the House State Affairs Committee since January. Now it has become a little hopeful green start, transplanted to the House Judiciary Committee, where it will be discussed and brought up for public testimony on Monday, April 12 at 1:00 p.m.
HB 66 is a bill designed to make voting in Alaska more accessible, modern, and secure. It is an ambitious and relatively large bill - clocking in at 16 pages of reforms - and if passed, this bill would make Alaska's voting system the nation's envy. Our state has significant logistical challenges because of our size and diversity. We have many Indigenous languages, the most diverse neighborhoods in America, a large military presence, and lots of folks on active duty, out fishing halibut and cod, or working on the Slope who need to vote absentee. Because of this, Alaska elections pose an opportunity to constantly improve and modernize the process wherein our most fundamental act of citizenship in a democratic society takes place.
Specifically, HB 66 authorizes same-day voter registration, allowing first-time voters to register and vote on election day. It allows the use of electronic signatures for voter registration and calls for the same early voting locations to be available during every election. HB 66 creates an option for permanent absentee voting for individuals that plan to vote by mail in every election.
It requires the Division of Elections to provide a postage-paid return envelope with absentee ballots. (Eliminates the need for stamps to vote.) It clarifies terminology for early voting to remove confusion between early voting and absentee in-person voting. It requires election officials to notify a voter if their absentee ballot is rejected. It requires the Division of Elections to offer a voter the option to fix a mailed-in absentee ballot if there are errors. It eliminates the witness requirement for absentee ballots. It increases the pay for poll workers from $12 per hour to $15 per hour. HB 66 also clarifies that candidates and groups sponsoring ballot initiatives can have poll watchers and allows absentee ballots to be counted as they are received instead of waiting until after the polls close on election day.
This suite of reforms, sponsored by Representative Chris Tuck, faces significant odds in the State Senate where the respective State Affairs and Judiciary Committees have folks at the helm who take the falsehood that "the 2020 federal election was stolen" as orthodoxy. They still push this message with no proof and are trying to pass policies that make voting either less accessible or a near impossibility. That is why Alaskans must tell the side of the story based in reality: decreasing barriers and modernizing our voting process, getting more people engaged, and voting is the right way to go.
Plan to testify. Talking points here.
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