Legislature(2001 - 2002)

05/04/2001 10:52 AM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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                                                            
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                                                            
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                                                            
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                                                            
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.                                                                              

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