How much information should the Borough provide voters on the ballot? That was central to the debate on an ordinance that would repeal a provision in the Borough code that authorized statements either supporting or opposing ballot propositions. In years past, voters got both a pro and a con statement about what they were about to vote on. But since this was enacted seven years ago, only one proposition has had both sides submit a statement.
“I don’t think it’s the government’s job to be soliciting opinions that go into a pamphlet that the government is paying for," says Assembly member Bill Smith, who helped write the ordinance that would simply do away with the requirement that’s rarely met anyway.
“If people have a better solution, they can write an ordinance to bring that solution to fruition. But this is not a good solution," says Smith.
The big problem is that when it comes time to put together voter pamphlets and ballots, the Borough Clerks office usually only gets statements on one side of an issue. But Nikiski resident James Price, who’s been very active in trying to shake up the way voting is handled in the Borough, says the issue isn’t about getting two sides to tell the story. He says he’s submitted statements, but he didn’t know who was representing the other side.
“I think you have a problem with the ordinance, but I don’t think it’s a problem with getting statements," says Price. "I think it’s a problem with the procedure you’ve been using and with transparency.”
Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship told the Assembly that she will put ads in the paper to try and get both sides. But the problem for her office is finding an individual or an organization willing to offer an opposing viewpoint.
“In the past, I can only recall one time in which I knew specifically that there was a group out there that was opposing something, and I did offer them authorship," says Blankenship. "They were not a group, that had a group name, and they chose not to. Nine times out of 10, I don’t know who to offer that second authorship to. I only know who’s supporting those things.”
There was some agreement that maybe it isn’t the best system. If no one is willing to put their name on a statement, then perhaps that side shouldn’t be recognized. There were some other ideas; maybe have high school or college students debate an issue and draft the statements. Timing issues make that one kind of a non-starter, but for Assembly member Brent Johnson, the whole thing is kind of a non-starter.
“I think that the voter pamphlet is kind of a sacred document and opinions that are generated from either the Assembly or the public have no place in the voter pamphlet," says Johnson. "I prefer to keep the thing as pure as possible. Put the ballot measures in there, explain them as best we can. Let the opinion people take their messages to the opinion places.”
And that was the opinion that won the vote, 5-4, leaving just the facts.