The Alaska House of Representatives voted 22-17 on Friday, April 28, 2017 to allow Alaskans to register as voters on Election Day. House Bill 1 now goes to the Senate for consideration. (James Brooks | Juneau Empire)

If Senate agrees, new House bill would make voting easier

If the Senate agrees with the idea, Alaskans will be able to cast their ballots on the same day they register to vote.

On Friday morning, the Alaska House of Representatives voted 22-17 to approve House Bill 1, which allows Alaskans to register to vote on Election Day, then cast a ballot for statewide office.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, who said in a prepared statement that it may improve voter turnout.

“The right to vote embodies the spirit of American democracy, casting a vote is the most effective way to have one’s voice heard in the political process,” he said. “When we exercise our right to vote we impact our community far beyond election night, we elect individuals to act on our behalf to manage government services, set policies that shape our state, and invest and develop our resources.”

In the 2016 national election, 15 states and the District of Columbia offered Election-Day voter registration. According to the organization Nonprofit VOTE, those 15 states had a voter turnout of 67 percent. The national average was 60 percent. Alaska’s turnout was 60.8 percent.

Wendy Underhill, director of elections for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said there’s a slow trend for more states to adopt same-day registration.

“There’s a whole panoply of registration efforts to make it as clean and as accurate as possible and make sure that people who are eligible to vote can vote,” she said.

In Alaska, several layers of security would be used to prevent improper voting.

Nevertheless, the bill had its opponents.

Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, warned that if signed into law, HB 1 might encourage “apathetic, less-informed” Alaskans to vote.

“Why would you want to bend over backwards to accommodate such voters?” he asked.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, responded that lawmakers should want to make voting accessible regardless of the voter’s beliefs.

“Do we want more people to vote, or do we want it to be harder for people to vote?” he said.

Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer, pointed out that voters last year approved a measure allowing Alaskans to update their voter registration at the same time they apply for the Permanent Fund Dividend.

The implications of that new program have not yet become apparent, and Johnson said there may not be a need for same-day registration if the PFD-voter initiative works as promised.

“This is just a solution looking for a problem, in my estimation. I just don’t know what we’re trying to achieve here,” she said.

That vote was along caucus lines, with the 22-member coalition House Majority in favor and the 18-member Republican House Minority opposed. Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks and a member of that minority, was excused from the vote.

A procedural vote confirming Friday’s decision will take place next week, and the bill will move to the Senate afterward. The Senate is not expected to take up the issue this year.

NCSL’s Underhill said that isn’t unusual.

“It often takes more than one year to get something like this done,” she said.

 


 

• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 419-7732.

 


 

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