'Better Elections' are just a ballot measure away

Sep 10, 2020

Credit Shahla Farzan / KBBI

Residents of the Kenai Peninsula will see ballot questions in two upcoming elections that seek to change how we vote on the peninsula and in the state.
    On the ballot in October during the Municipal Elections, voters will see an initiative brought forth by members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly who were on the losing end of several 6-3 votes to reform elections on the peninsula. Unless overturned by the voters, the Kenai Peninsula Borough will adopt a hybrid vote-by-mail system intended to increase voter turnout and ballot security.
    On the General Election ballot in November, voters will see an initiative promoted by Alaskans for Better Elections. It would re-open primary elections to all, institute ranked-choice voting and reform campaign contributions.
    Shea Siegert is the campaign manager for “Yes on 2,” the effort to get Ballot Measure 2 passed.
    “We have 63% of our registered voters who choose not to register with either of the two parties. So over 63% of all registered voters don't have a primary election to vote in. They chose to register as a nonpartisan and unaffiliated. They chose to register as something other than Republican or Democrat, because they wanted to vote across party lines and vote for the person, not just the party.”
    He said the separate primaries amounts to a disenfranchisement of voters.
    “But the way our elections are set up right now, they can't do that. I can't go into the primary election and vote for a Democrat or a Republican. And now that just doesn't make much sense to me.”
    Siegert says a U.S. Supreme Court ruling changed how closed primaries, such as the Alaskan Republicans use, are seen by courts.
    “What they weighed in on was the fact that, when we back when we had a blanket primary, they said, well, that was an infringement on our right to assemble. Well, they overturned that decision in 2012 in a really good case. Seven two decision at the U S Supreme court in 2012, Washington state Grange versus Washington state Republican party. That said, parties have a people have a right to be, assembled in a party. But what that, what that also said was parties absolutely do not have the right to be the gatekeepers to our elections. Our elections need to be about the people, not the politicians, not the parties and not the special interests.”
    Ranked-choice voting allows voters to pick a second choice in an election as a way of ensuring the winning candidate has a majority of the vote, not just a plurality.
    “So, you know, if you're a voter and you go into the ballot right now if your candidate loses, then you're most likely going to get the exact opposite of what you want. But that doesn't make any sense. When you go out to a room restaurant, you have that favorite restaurant in your mind, and you're going out there and you've been thinking about it all day. If that restaurant is closed, do you go home and not eat? Absolutely not. You go to your next preferred choice. We're ranking our choices and decision-making in everyday life. And why aren't we choosing our politicians the same way? We're choosing our politicians based on a system that is driving us further and further apart. And what this ballot measure does is bring us more center so that we elect people and incentivize them to work together, to get issues solved for everyday Alaskans.”
    There are 22 cities in the United States that use ranked-choice voting, as well as one state, Maine, which instituted it in 2016.
    “And they've expanded it since 2016. Now special interests have tried to repeal it three times now. But the people of Maine where they passed, it said, no, you can't, you can't repeat it. This, this is a system that truly empowers our votes. It truly makes our voices heard and it gives us better and more choices on the ballot.”
    Seigert acknowledges that ranked-choice voting has attracted a lot of opposition in the state, with both well-known Republicans and Democrats coming out against it.
    “You know, the libertarian party has come out in full throated support of us, the Inland Boatman's Union the ferry union, they came out and supported us because they saw that this system that we're proposing Ballot Measure 2 it incentivizes, electing the rational person. So the person who's not going to gut our ferry system. The person who's not going to send out pink slips to our teachers every year and put them out of work. The person who's not going to take irrational approaches to rational issues. We have solutions for problems, but we have to put down the partisanship to solve them. And that's what Ballot Measure 2 incentivizes in our electoral system.”
    You can hear more about Ballot Measure 2 and Alaskans for Better Elections online, where the full interview with Seigert is posted with this story.