HB 4 – The Fatal Distraction

Wedge issues are great at distracting folks from actual problems. Are the highest healthcare costs in the nation bleeding your family dry? Is your kid's education system sinking into disrepair? The Alaska State Legislature’s House Majority has a solution - hold a bunch of hearings on the repeal of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). No fiscal plan? No worries - The House Majority is here to the rescue, to rile you with culture wars, to baffle you with BS.

HB 4 to repeal RCV is not a must-have issue for the legislature to gavel out. An increase in education funding is. It is well known in the capitol that HB 4 will not pass the state Senate. It is also known that a petition is being circulated out in Alaska to get a repeal of RCV on the ballot. That combo seems to indicate that these last-minute hearings on HB 4 are designed to maintain publicity and right-wing outrage on the issue as we enter the prime summer signature-gathering months.  

Considering that RCV passed and has been successfully tested through an election cycle, has helped seat a moderate state Senate and has a savvy and passionate army of supporters - it will be a massive street fight if the repeal effort gets enough votes to go up on the ballot, one that has a high likelihood of ending with the full retention of the RCV statute. 

The vast majority of testifiers on HB 4 are opposed. Many testifiers have asked the sponsor to table the bill, to focus on real issues. While we agree with this sentiment, it is also likely that the House Majority will ride this issue to a floor vote to get politicians on the record with their sentiment toward RCV. HB 4 did garner an additional recommendation to send it to the House Finance Committee, which could indicate that some members of the Majority leadership wish to either slow-roll the bill or prolong the agony.  

Good election laws are fundamental to bringing more people to the table to move good and efficient government forward. Unlike HB 4, which merely seeks to divide and politicize and constrict voting, SB 138, which was heard this week in the Senate Finance Committee, would help more Alaskans be a part of the solution to our numerous actual problems.  

SB 138 seeks to establish a ballot-curing process, which would allow absentee voters to fix benign mistakes with their ballots. In the 2022 special election primary, we saw high ballot rejection rates for easily correctable issues. It would improve the absentee voting experience by removing the witness signature requirement, a major reason why ballots were rejected last year, and allowing voters to vote absentee for future regularly scheduled elections. It would allow voters to register within 30 days of an election, including Election Day, and it would allow for pre-pay postage for absentee ballots. 

As this legislative session concludes, it often feels like a record with an artificially sped-up tempo. You almost expect committee hearings to be conducted in staccato chipmunk voices. Bills on the move usually lurch forward unpredictably. It is a strange time, and a lot can happen quickly. Priorities emerge, and opportunities are exploited. We predict that SB 138 is preparing to hibernate for the interim in the Senate Finance Committee and that the House Majority will push to move HB 4 along despite the crosswinds of public opposition. The time the legislature has left is precious; how they use it has consequences for all of us. An energy-sapping policy like HB 4 impedes and tarnishes the work of the whole. 

Yours in politely asking for a more thoughtful approach,
The Alaska Center

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