Legislature(2001 - 2002)
05/04/2001 10:52 AM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SENATE CS FOR CS FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 193(JUD) "An Act relating to the primary election and to the nomination of candidates for the general election; and providing for an effective date." REPRESENTATIVE JOHN COHGILL, JR. shared that he has been following this bill since it was heard in the House State Affairs Committee, which he chairs. He pointed out the most substantive change made to the governor's original version of the bill is the insertion of "to vote the party's ballot if the voter is permitted by the party's bylaws" in Section 3, Subsection b on page 2, line 21 of the committee substitute. He expressed this, "is really getting to the heart of the issue." Representative Coghill informed that the legislation requires that each political party have a primary election ballot. He compared the Senate Judiciary committee substitute to the House State Affairs committee substitute and alluded to differences regarding the inclusion of nonpartisan and undeclared party candidates. Representative Coghill relayed that the issue of filing petitions was raised in the Senate Judiciary Committee and pertinent language is contained in Section 5 on beginning on page 3 of the Senate Judiciary committee substitute. He pointed out the June 1 filing date for candidacy and that the petition certification deadline is the date of the primary election. Representative Coghill expressed the reason he was presenting this bill was due to a commitment he made to the House Judiciary Committee chair. Representative Coghill emphasized, "I really strongly believe…the party should have the right to select its primary candidate through the primary election selection process." He stated that this committee substitute allows the political parties to chose their candidates, and if they so choose, to invite those who are not affiliated with their party. He said the version of the bill that passed the House of Representative provided that the parties must include the undeclared and nonpartisans unless that party specifically chooses to exclude them. Representative Coghill opined that this legislation should follow a United States Supreme Court ruling on California Democratic Party vs. Jones, giving the parties the right to chose whether undeclared and nonpartisans are included. "However, I have to confess to you," he qualified, "that I know that my caucus, the other side of the aisle, would much rather favor the mandated open to the 'U's and 'N's and let the parties exclude them if they so wish." He stressed this is a policy call. Representative Coghill again spoke to the United States Supreme Court case, which resulted from an initiative pertaining to the blanket primary, and where the court found that the blanket primary is unconstitutional and "the right to association was given then, to the parties." Representative Coghill emphasized the Senate Finance Committee is the last forum to determine whether the inclusion of undeclared and nonpartisans is mandated or optional. He stated this is to "protect the party's right to associate freely and put forth a candidate that they so chose." He noted that the House State Affairs committee substitute would also be acceptable because it allows a political party to exclude. Representative Coghill told how the political parties could be required to submit their by-laws to the Division of Elections, stating whether they would include the undeclared and nonpartisans. He noted another option would be to default to exclusion unless the political parties specified otherwise. He stressed that he wanted the Senate Finance Committee to make this determination because he understood that a closed ballot is "a major policy call in the State of Alaska." Representative Coghill commented that the blanket primary system has not worked well for the political party system. He summarized, "should we allow the parties to chose their own candidates?" He pointed out that undeclared and nonpartisan comprise a large portion of voters in the state. This legislation, he stated, would require these voters to make a choice as to whether they wish to be "involved in the party or lobby the party to allow them to vote on their primary ballot." He remarked, "I think that's right. I think that's proper." Senator Wilken asked if the Senate Judiciary committee substitute excludes undeclared and nonpartisan unless specifically allowed in the political party's by-laws, and that a draft committee substitute, prepared by the testifier, includes undeclared and nonpartisan unless specifically excluded in the party's by-laws. Representative Coghill affirmed. Senator Wilken established that the draft committee substitute contains similar language as the House State Affairs committee substitute, which passed the House of Representatives. Representative Coghill reaffirmed and noted the draft committee substitute contains language from the Senate Judiciary committee substitute pertaining to petitions for candidacy. Senator Ward asked if a party could restrict a member of another party from voting its ballot. Representative Coghill affirmed. Senator Hoffman asked how voters registered as undeclared or nonpartisan would vote in the primary if the political parties decided to exclude them. He predicted some would become angry if they could not participate in the primary election. Representative Coghill agreed and said this is a policy call. He noted that undeclared and nonpartisan voters have had the opportunity to choose candidates from political parties without joining that party. He read from the Supreme Court ruling "the voters desire to participate does not become more weighty simply because the state supports it." He continued reading, "the voter who feels himself disenfranchised should simply join the party that may put him to a hard choice but it is not a state-imposed restriction upon his freedom, of association that is… Whereas compelling party members to accept the selection of nominees is a state-imposed restriction upon theirs." Senator Olson asked about instances where several candidates from one party have filed, but few, if any have filed for another party. He asked if there is a mechanism to address this. Representative Coghill replied, "That's what the general election process is all about." He stated that one party should have the right to select from several candidates of its party even if there are no other candidates outside that party AVRUM GROSS testified in Juneau as chair of "a taskforce to rewrite the state's primary laws after it became clear that the existing law was unconstitutional." He listed the taskforce membership as including all the former lieutenant governors of the state, both Republican and Democrat, and two former Attorneys General. He described the taskforce's charge to draft legislation addressing the matter. Mr. Gross detailed the issues was because Alaska had a blanket primary, which he defined as one ballot containing all candidates from all political parties and thus allowing voters to select a candidate from any party for each office regardless of the voter's party affiliation. He noted that the U.S. Supreme Court, in California Democratic Party versus Jones, ruled that a party could chose to restrict the people who could vote for its candidates in the primary election. He informed there has to be a mechanism whereby the state recognized the desire of the parties to limit the people who could participate in selecting its candidates. Mr. Gross relayed that the taskforce heard testimony from the political parties, then drafted a law that was "as close to the existing law as we could" and yet incorporate the Supreme Court decision. The resulting legislation, he said, proposes a "modified blanket primary law", which provides that a ballot lists all the candidates from all the parties and was available to any voter unless a party decided in its by-laws that it did not wish certain people to participate in the selection of that party's candidates. Mr. Gross detailed the taskforce's recommendation to have ballots that contain the candidates from all parties not excluded by a specific political party. He gave an example, saying if the Democratic Party determined that members of the Republican Party should not vote for their candidates, no Democratic candidates would appear on the ballot available for Republican voters. However, he continued, candidates from other political parties that have not made such a decision with regard to the Republican Party, would appear on the ballot available to Republican voters in addition to the Republican candidates. He explained that all ballots would contain candidates from all parties except for ballots available to a party in which another party has determined should not be allowed to vote for its candidates. In this manner, he said, candidates from some parties could appear on more than one ballot. Mr. Gross surmised that this method recognizes the Supreme Court case, by allowing parties to limit the people who vote for its candidates. However, he pointed out, this does not prohibit people from voting for candidates of different parties in some races if that party allowed them to. He emphasized this retains the blanket primary. Mr. Gross expressed the taskforce's intent to encourage the maximum amount of public participation in the primary election process to the extent that parties do not prohibit it. He shared the taskforce's understanding that the more races a voter is allowed to participate in, the more encouraged they would be to vote in the primary election. Mr. Gross told the Committee that the version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives is no longer a blanket primary. Instead, he stated, the House State Affairs committee substitute establishes a set of closed primaries, each party having its own ballot. He pointed out that the only voters who can receive a ballot are members of the political party or those who that party has determined are allowed that ballot. He stressed that this method does not allow nonpartisan and undeclared voters to participate in different primary races. He explained that the only candidates a nonpartisan or undeclared voter can chose are from the one party included on the ballot. He added that this applies to all races. Mr. Gross noted the governor had no input in the original legislation other than introducing what the taskforce drafted to the legislature. He stated, "We thought a closed primary system would really shut down the process and not encourage people to participate." He remarked that even with the current blanket primary system, voter participation has reduced and as a result, "we were fundamentally opposed-and I mean Republicans and Democrats alike on this commission, this isn't a partisan effort- to setting up a closed primary. That was the universal view of the commission." Mr. Gross asserted the House State Affairs committee substitute is a "seriously restricted bill. It changes the primary system of Alaska radically." He stated it is, "giving parties control over the system; control not mandated by the Supreme Court." In addition, he said, "This is a totally different concept." He expressed that besides affecting voter participation, "in the end the state sets up the process by which candidates are nominated for the general election. If the state sets it up, it should allow, it seems to me, the maximum number of citizens to participate in that process." He remarked that the committee substitute instead minimizes citizen participation by discouraging their participation in the primary system. He stated, "You can do this in the name of partisan politics if you want, but at the same time, the voters don't have any other way to make their views known." Mr. Gross pointed out that over sixty percent of the voters in Alaska are not registered to a political party. He stressed that the task force objected to a primary system directed only for political parties, and that encourages voters to join parties they otherwise do not want to join. Senator Austerman referenced language inserted to Section 6, on page 4, line 31 and page 5, lines 1 and 2 of the Senate Judiciary committee substitute. This language reads as follows. (17) if the candidacy is for the office of the governor, the name of the candidate for lieutenant governor running jointly with the candidate for governor. New Text Underlined Senator Austerman asked the witness to comment on this language. Mr. Gross replied that the taskforce never addressed this matter. Representative Coghill noted this was not included in earlier versions of the bill and that he had no knowledge of any discussions on the matter. He explained the language relates to provisions for a candidate seeking nomination by petition and stipulates that a gubernatorial and lieutenant governor candidate are listed together on a filing petition. Senator Ward asked if undeclared and nonpartisan voter could vote any ballot under this bill. Representative Coghill responded that the parties would chose which voters could receive a ballot containing that party's candidates. Senator Wilken asked which version of the bill Mr. Gross supports. Mr. Gross responded he supports the original bill that was introduced by the governor in the House of Representatives, which he pointed out is completely different than any version here. Co-Chair Kelly ordered the bill HELD in Committee.