Legislature(2017 - 2018)BARNES 124

04/05/2018 08:00 AM House COMMUNITY & REGIONAL AFFAIRS

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Heard & Held
-- Public Testimony --
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Moved CSSJR 4(RES) Out of Committee
             HB 390-RANKED-CHOICE PRIMARY ELECTIONS                                                                         
8:35:07 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  ZULKOSKY announced  that  the final  order of  business                                                               
would  be HOUSE  BILL NO.  390,  "An Act  establishing a  ranked-                                                               
choice primary election system for  nomination to state executive                                                               
and  state  and  national  legislative  offices;  establishing  a                                                               
ranked-choice general  election system for election  to state and                                                               
national  legislative  offices;   repealing  the  special  runoff                                                               
election  for  the office  of  United  States senator  or  United                                                               
States representative;  and requiring certain written  notices to                                                               
appear in election pamphlets and polling places."                                                                               
8:35:32 AM                                                                                                                    
KARLA  HART testified  that she  had  tried to  bring forward  an                                                               
initiative in  Juneau in support  of ranked choice  voting (RCV);                                                               
however, she said the idea  never gained traction, because people                                                               
thought it was too  complicated.  She said she is  glad to see HB
390 and  encouraged the committee  to "really  look at it."   Ms.                                                               
Hart  talked about  "the  spoiler effect"  on  the municipal  and                                                               
sometimes the state level.  She  explained this is when there are                                                               
two  candidates  with  similar  political  positions,  who  split                                                               
votes,  leaving a  third  candidate  with the  most  votes.   For                                                               
example, the two  candidates may be from the same  party, and the                                                               
result could  be a  minority representation of  a district.   She                                                               
said [in  terms of the popular  vote], people often vote  for the                                                               
candidate they think  has the best chance of  winning rather than                                                               
the candidate  who best reflects  their values and beliefs.   Ms.                                                               
Hart urged  the committee to pass  HB 390.  She  said although it                                                               
may not have a great chance of  making it all the way through the                                                               
legislative process,  the discussion  would be  kept alive.   She                                                               
posited  that  [ranked choice  voting]  would  make the  election                                                               
system  "more  reflective of  the  people  and their  votes"  and                                                               
encourage people to vote for their preferred candidate.                                                                         
8:37:23 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR PARISH  asked why Ms. Hart  does not think HB  390 has a                                                               
chance to make it through the legislature.                                                                                      
MS. HART  responded that it  is late in the  legislative session,                                                               
and the legislature has a lot  of business to finish.  She added,                                                               
"And it's  a House bill  and we're in the  House."  She  said she                                                               
hopes she  could be  surprised, but  "it seems  that this  is the                                                               
ripening period of time for the bill."                                                                                          
8:38:22 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR ZULKOSKY, after ascertaining that  there was no one else                                                               
who wished  to testify, closed public  testimony on HB 309.   She                                                               
then announced she would begin invited testimony.                                                                               
8:39:10 AM                                                                                                                    
BRIAN JACKSON, Elections Program  Manager, Division of Elections,                                                               
Office  of  the Lieutenant  Governor,  advised  that the  current                                                               
tabulation system  used by  the division  does not  accommodate a                                                               
ranked choice  process for counting  ballots.  He  specified that                                                               
the  current  system  can  count   only  one  round  of  ballots;                                                               
therefore, to  meet the requirements  under HB 390,  the division                                                               
would  need  to replace  the  system  with  one that  can  handle                                                               
multiple  rounds.     Mr.  Jackson  stated  that   in  2017,  the                                                               
division's current  vendor, Dominion  Voting Systems,  provided a                                                               
"discussion quote"  of $5,755,455  to replace the  current system                                                               
with  newer  equipment that  would  use  the same  precinct-based                                                               
system.   The vendor indicated  that the (RCV) module  would cost                                                               
an additional $250,000.   He related that  the division's current                                                               
annual hardware  and license  fees amount  to $152,000,  and this                                                               
would increase to  $489,000 - an increase of $337,000  - with the                                                               
new  system.   Mr. Jackson  said that  for a  period of  one full                                                               
cycle, the division  would be required to educate  the public and                                                               
inform voters of the changes brought  about under HB 390, and the                                                               
estimate cost of outreach through  an "education mailer" would be                                                               
$200,000 the first year and another $50,000 the second year.                                                                    
MR. JACKSON said  while the division has no objection  to HB 390,                                                               
Section  5 would  allow  voters  to vote  using  Roman or  Arabic                                                               
numbers,  and  the  current system  does  not  support  character                                                               
recognition during ballot  scanning.  Further, he said  it is the                                                               
understanding of the  division that there are  no current systems                                                               
that support  the type of  character recognition as  described in                                                               
Section 5.  He said  the division understands the committee would                                                               
consider  amending  Section 5,  and  the  division would  support                                                               
changes to that section.                                                                                                        
8:42:17 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE RAUSCHER  asked how many other  states use [ranked                                                               
choice voting] equipment.                                                                                                       
MR.  JACKSON answered  he does  not  know but  could [provide  an                                                               
answer  later].    In  response   to  a  follow-up  question,  he                                                               
confirmed that under  an RCV system, the  division would maintain                                                               
its  current practice  of counting  ballots  multiple times  [for                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  RAUSCHER asked  if voters  would still  receive a                                                               
paper ballot to fill out under the new system.                                                                                  
MR. JACKSON answered yes.                                                                                                       
8:43:30 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR PARISH  offered his understanding  that Mr.  Jackson had                                                               
said the cost of new voting machines would be $5.7 million.                                                                     
MR. JACKSON answered yes.                                                                                                       
CO-CHAIR PARISH asked how much  of that amount would be necessary                                                               
in the  absence of  HB 390.   He clarified  that even  without HB
390, that is a cost that the division anticipates covering.                                                                     
MR.  JACKSON explained  that the  division  currently is  looking                                                               
into replacing the current voting system because of its age.                                                                    
8:44:24 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE DRUMMOND expressed that  a recent mail-in election                                                               
in  Anchorage  had been  successful  and  the mail-in  method  of                                                               
voting  seems  to  be  growing in  popularity,  which  saves  the                                                               
Municipality of  Anchorage money.   She talked about the  cost of                                                               
hiring  500  people  for  a  day and  a  half  and  staffing  and                                                               
equipping 120  polling places.   She estimated there  are upwards                                                               
of 400 precincts in Alaska.                                                                                                     
8:45:17 AM                                                                                                                    
JOSIE  BAHNKE, Director,  Division  of Elections,  Office of  the                                                               
Lieutenant  Governor,  in  response to  Representative  Drummond,                                                               
stated that  Alaska has  441 precincts  that the  division staffs                                                               
for  elections,  at  which  time the  staffing  of  the  division                                                               
increases  from 28  full-time  employees  to approximately  2,500                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  DRUMMOND expressed  her  hope  that the  division                                                               
would consider the  savings resulting from mail-in  ballots.  She                                                               
acknowledged that  mail-in ballots could create  issues in having                                                               
to provide  interpretive ballots or  ballots that can be  used by                                                               
those with visual impairment; however,  she reasserted that mail-                                                               
in balloting  would save the  state money  in the long-run.   She                                                               
said new  equipment would  be necessary, but  she assumed  it all                                                               
would be housed with the division,  in one location where all the                                                               
ballots would be counted; therefore,  she said she does not think                                                               
the division  would have to  spend "the millions and  millions of                                                               
dollars  you're talking  about to  replace  all that  equipment."                                                               
She  said Anchorage  borrowed the  equipment from  the state  for                                                               
many  years,  and  the  equipment   was  getting  worn  out,  and                                                               
sometimes poll workers would have to go find a counting machine.                                                                
8:47:10 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  PARISH  asked  if  a  ranked  choice  system  could  be                                                               
compatible with  a mail-in system, and,  if so, he asked  if that                                                               
could help "defray  the cost of the mailer and  the confusion ...                                                               
people might experience."                                                                                                       
MR. JACKSON  answered that  he thinks RCV  [would work  with] by-                                                               
mail ballots.                                                                                                                   
CO-CHAIR  PARISH surmised  a cost  savings could  be realized  by                                                               
including an extra instructional sheet in an envelope.                                                                          
MR.  JACKSON   responded  that   the  proposed   legislation,  as                                                               
currently  written,  would  require  the division  to  begin  the                                                               
additional  voter outreach  in  an  off year  leading  up to  the                                                               
election year.   He said the division would want  to send out the                                                               
education piece, but the division  could also include instruction                                                               
with a by-mail ballot.                                                                                                          
CO-CHAIR PARISH  recollected that  North Carolina had  spent $200                                                               
statewide  for  public  education,  but that  was  with  generous                                                               
support of the  state's public broadcasting service.   He said he                                                               
has not  stipulated under  HB 390 the  amount the  division would                                                               
have to spend, and he would support ways to economize.                                                                          
8:49:56 AM                                                                                                                    
MS.  BAHNKE noted  that for  the purpose  of the  included fiscal                                                               
note, the division used the  discussion quote for the replacement                                                               
of a  precinct-based system.   Alternatively, the  division spoke                                                               
with the vendor about replacing  [the system] with one that would                                                               
be entirely  by-mail.   She said the  difference between  the two                                                               
was $5.7 million for the  precinct-based system and approximately                                                               
$1.7  million  for  the  entirely   by-mail  system.    Regarding                                                               
outreach,  she  said the  division  had  calculated the  $200,000                                                               
based on the average price of a ballot measure pamphlet.                                                                        
8:51:05 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  DRUMMOND  offered   her  understanding  that  the                                                               
Municipality of Anchorage  took two years to  educate its voters,                                                               
and  "apparently it  paid off."    She suggested  there could  be                                                               
extra pages in the election pamphlet for educational purposes.                                                                  
8:51:51 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  ZULKOSKY  asked if  the  division's  cost estimate  for                                                               
voter education considers rural  communities and educating voters                                                               
for whom English is a second language.                                                                                          
MS.  BAHNKE answered  that  that is  not  something the  division                                                               
discussed relative  to RCV; however, it  was a large part  of the                                                               
discussion  between  the  lieutenant governor  and  the  Election                                                               
Policy  Workgroup.    She  relayed a  mantra  that  if  something                                                               
doesn't work for rural Alaska, then  it does not work for Alaska.                                                               
She said, "... That has been a  central focus ... as we explore a                                                               
new system."                                                                                                                    
8:53:18 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR PARISH said many  ranked choice jurisdictions ultimately                                                               
do away with primary elections.   He asked what the fiscal impact                                                               
would be for Alaska if primaries were eliminated.                                                                               
MS.  BAHNKE answered  that  the  typical cost  to  run a  primary                                                               
election  is  approximately  $1.2  million.   In  response  to  a                                                               
follow-up question, she confirmed that that is a biennial cost.                                                                 
8:54:55 AM                                                                                                                    
KAY  BROWN  related  that  she  is retired  and  a  former  state                                                               
legislator, but  is testifying  on behalf of  herself.   She said                                                               
the  issue of  RCV was  voted on  in a  2002 primary  election in                                                               
Alaska,  in Ballot  Measure 1,  which failed  overwhelmingly when                                                               
63.7 percent  voted against it and  36 percent voted in  favor of                                                               
it.   She  said at  that  time she  had analyzed  the system  and                                                               
became  convinced the  RCV system  was  not the  best system  for                                                               
Alaska.   She said it  may sound good in  theory and may  work in                                                               
other  jurisdictions; however,  there  are caveats  she said  the                                                               
state  should consider  in  terms of  how it  would  play out  in                                                               
MS.  BROWN said  her main  objection is  that the  entire concept                                                               
seems   to  violate   the  well-established   principle  of   one                                                               
person/one vote "that we have  coming down from the United States                                                               
Supreme Court."  Ranked choice  voting allows voters to vote more                                                               
than once, she  maintained.  She explained that  when people vote                                                               
for "a  last-place candidate," their  votes are  redistributed to                                                               
their  second choices,  and that  process  would continue  "until                                                               
somebody gets  a 50 percent  plus one  majority."  She  said this                                                               
gives  that  voter  "the  extra   opportunity  to  determine  the                                                               
outcome,"  whereas other  voters would  have their  votes counted                                                               
only once.  She opined that this is fundamentally unfair.                                                                       
MS. BROWN  noted that  RCV is sometimes  referred to  as "instant                                                               
run-off voting,"  in order  to avoid too  many run-offs  where it                                                               
would be  potentially difficult  for any candidate  to get  to 50                                                               
percent.    She  said  Alaska  does not  have  a  super  majority                                                               
requirement; therefore, "this is really  not a problem that needs                                                               
to be fixed in  my opinion."  She opined that  there is no reason                                                               
to change  Alaska's voting system;  it would cost extra  money to                                                               
do so  and potentially cause  confusion.  She questioned  how the                                                               
results  would be  reported.   For  example, she  asked if  there                                                               
would be a  report on round one, and then  reports for subsequent                                                               
rounds.   If not,  there may  be uncertainty  and concern  on the                                                               
part of  voters trying  to understand what  happened.   She asked                                                               
the committee to  picture a race where there  are many candidates                                                               
and  multiple reports,  and  she  said that  would  be much  more                                                               
complex for the division and voters "to sort through that."                                                                     
8:59:08 AM                                                                                                                    
MS.  BROWN  questioned  how  the  proposed  system  would  affect                                                               
political party  status.  She  said currently a candidate  has to                                                               
get a certain  percent of votes to qualify to  a particular party                                                               
to have a spot recognized on  the primary ballot.  She questioned                                                               
whether only  the first-choice  votes would  be counted  or those                                                               
votes  on down  the ranking.   She  said that  issue needs  to be                                                               
addressed under HB 390.                                                                                                         
MS. BROWN summarized  that she does not see the  need for [ranked                                                               
choice  voting] and  is not  clear what  the problem  is that  is                                                               
being  addressed by  the  proposed legislation.    She urged  the                                                               
committee not to move HB 390 forward.                                                                                           
9:00:21 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  DRUMMOND recalled  how disturbed  by the  process                                                               
Ms. Brown  was several years  ago.   She remarked that  there had                                                               
been   several  mayoral   candidates  on   the  ballot   for  the                                                               
Municipality of  Anchorage recently, and  she would not  vote for                                                               
several of  them.   In that  case, she might  only mark  a ranked                                                               
choice ballot four or five  times, while another voter might mark                                                               
his/her ballot  for all ten  candidates and thus get  more votes.                                                               
She stated, "I can see how  the math would work, and I absolutely                                                               
agree  that  it's   a  problem  regarding  the   concept  of  one                                                               
person/one vote."                                                                                                               
9:01:45 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR PARISH asked  Ms. Brown if she remembers  what the voter                                                               
turnout was for the last General Election.                                                                                      
MS. BROWN answered no.                                                                                                          
CO-CHAIR PARISH  asked Ms.  Brown if she  would support  a system                                                               
that got more people to vote.                                                                                                   
MS.  BROWN  answered,  "Not if  it  compromised  our  fundamental                                                               
constitutional right to one person/one  vote."  She said she does                                                               
support by-mail voting,  which she said she  thinks has increased                                                               
voter  participation in  Anchorage.   She  said  she agrees  that                                                               
there  should be  concern about  voter turnout,  but she  doesn't                                                               
think [RCV] is the best approach to a solution.                                                                                 
CO-CHAIR PARISH  said he appreciated  Ms. Brown's concern  that a                                                               
candidate  that  is  unlikely  to win  would  have  his/her  vote                                                               
eliminated  and   then  transferred.     He  called   it  "single                                                               
transferable vote."   He  said, "It's  not the  case that  in the                                                               
final tally my  vote would be counted a dozen  times; you'd still                                                               
have only  the number of  votes on  the ballot.   Well, actually,                                                               
you'd  probably end  up with  fewer votes  overall, because  some                                                               
candidates would  be eliminated and  would have declined  to vote                                                               
for a  second or subsequent  rounds.  But  you don't end  up with                                                               
extra votes overall."  He asked  Ms. Brown why a voter should not                                                               
be able to vote  for a candidate who is unlikely  to win and also                                                               
vote a second-choice candidate.                                                                                                 
MS.  BROWN  reiterated that  a  person's  vote would  be  counted                                                               
initially  and then  counted again;  therefore,  that person,  in                                                               
essence, is  being allowed to  vote twice.   She said  she thinks                                                               
that is  unfair.   She said everyone  is allowed  his/her opinion                                                               
concerning the  best candidate  and is allowed  to vote  for that                                                               
candidate,  and she  does not  think  Alaska needs  "to add  this                                                               
layer of  complexity to  our system in  order to  have reasonable                                                               
and fair  outcomes in our elections,  and I don't   see that this                                                               
is an improvement over the system that we have presently."                                                                      
CO-CHAIR PARISH said  presently if a person votes for  one of the                                                               
two  most  popular candidates,  then  the  vote essentially  gets                                                               
counted, while  a person  who votes for  a marginal  candidate is                                                               
described as throwing  his/her vote away.  He asked  Ms. Brown if                                                               
she had heard that.                                                                                                             
MS. BROWN answered yes.                                                                                                         
CO-CHAIR PARISH asked Ms. Brown  if she thinks someone voting for                                                               
a third-party  candidate is  likely to have  his/her vote  make a                                                               
difference in the final tally.                                                                                                  
MS.  BROWN replied,  "However they  voted will  certainly make  a                                                               
difference in the final tally."                                                                                                 
CO-CHAIR  PARISH asked  Ms. Brown  if she  is aware  of "results"                                                               
that  show that  there is  less negative  campaigning in  systems                                                               
with RCV.                                                                                                                       
MS. BROWN  said she  is not  familiar with that.   She  asked for                                                               
confirmation that most  RCV systems are used  locally rather than                                                               
in state elections.                                                                                                             
CO-CHAIR PARISH confirmed that is correct.                                                                                      
MS.  BROWN  interjected,  "And  do we  not  generally  have  less                                                               
negative campaigning in local elections  than we do the higher up                                                               
you go in the electoral process?"                                                                                               
CO-CHAIR PARISH  explained that  the difference  he had  cited is                                                               
between non-RCV cities and RCV cities.                                                                                          
MS. BROWN  replied that looking  at the experience in  cities may                                                               
be instructive;  however, the city  structure is different.   For                                                               
example, she said Alaska's  [municipal elections] are nonpartisan                                                               
and do not  hold primary elections.  She concluded,  "So, I'm not                                                               
sure  that  the things  that  you're  looking at  are  completely                                                               
applicable to our state election system."                                                                                       
9:07:26 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR ZULKOSKY announced that HB 390 was held over.                                                                          

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
SJR 4 HCRA Info Memo- Additional Document 4.5.18.pdf HCRA 4/5/2018 8:00:00 AM
SJR 4 S.1965 115 Congress 040318 Additional Document 4.5.18.pdf HCRA 4/5/2018 8:00:00 AM
CS HB 390 ver J 4.5.18.PDF HCRA 4/5/2018 8:00:00 AM
HB 390
HB 390 - Summary of Changes from Ver A to J 4.5.18.pdf HCRA 4/5/2018 8:00:00 AM
HB 390