Legislature(1999 - 2000)

04/20/1999 02:00 PM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE BILL NO. 141                                                                                                              
An Act providing for preferential voting in state and                                                                           
local elections.                                                                                                                
Representative Bunde MOVED to adopt work draft #1-LS0669\S,                                                                     
Kurtz, 4/19/99, as the version before the Committee.  There                                                                     
being NO OBJECTION, it was adopted.                                                                                             
KELLY SULLIVAN, STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE PETE KOTT, stated that                                                                    
Alaska has a history of electing minority candidates who                                                                        
collected a plurality of vote's cast, but not a majority.                                                                       
The most important principle of a democratic form of                                                                            
government is that the majority rules.  HB 141 would                                                                            
eliminate the possibility of having a minority candidate win                                                                    
an election.                                                                                                                    
Ms. Sullivan pointed out that HB 141 would allow a voter to                                                                     
prioritize their preferences by ranking each candidate.  If                                                                     
no candidate received 50% of the votes cast, then the                                                                           
candidate with the least votes would be eliminated and the                                                                      
votes re-tabulated.  Using a ranking system in state and                                                                        
local elections would insure that the winning candidate                                                                         
received at least 50% of the votes cast.                                                                                        
Ms. Sullivan noted that the bill goes into length explaining                                                                    
the procedures necessary to manage a preferential style of                                                                      
voting.  It is the bill's intent that the proposed style                                                                        
would be more fair and a more democratic process than the                                                                       
current system.  She urged that the bill be moved from                                                                          
Ms. Sullivan requested the opportunity to show a video on                                                                       
"Instant Run Off Voting" (IRV) which addresses the current                                                                      
systems problems.  The video outlined ways in which the IRV                                                                     
system would provide a sensible and fair alternative to the                                                                     
old method.                                                                                                                     
In response to Representative Bunde, Ms. Sullivan explained                                                                     
that the bill would guarantee that every vote counts.                                                                           
Voters would continue to have the power to vote for only one                                                                    
candidate or up to five.  She reiterated that the idea is                                                                       
that every vote counts.                                                                                                         
Representative Grussendorf interjected that the proposed                                                                        
system would provide an opportunity for all voters in                                                                           
support of a third party a chance to vote twice.                                                                                
Representative J. Davies requested clarification of the                                                                         
"write in candidates".  Ms. Kelly commented that Co-Chair                                                                       
Therriault would address that question in a proposed                                                                            
amendment.  [Copy on File].  She continued, the bill would                                                                      
allow voters to rank the write in candidate.                                                                                    
Representative Austerman asked how an incorrect ballot would                                                                    
be determined.  Ms. Kelly explained that portion of the                                                                         
ballot which was filled in correctly would be a counted                                                                         
vote, however, the vote filled out incorrectly would not be                                                                     
counted.  Co-Chair Therriault recommended that a                                                                                
representative from the Division of Elections answer that                                                                       
STEVE HILL, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), WEST COAST                                                                          
DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR VOTING DEMOCRACY, SAN FRANCISCO, stated                                                                    
that he would address the process and how other states are                                                                      
dealing with the concern.  He noted that Center for Voting                                                                      
Democracy (CVD) has been active on both local and state                                                                         
levels in researching the questions regarding voting.  He                                                                       
added that CVD has been in contact with Australia and                                                                           
Ireland where these practices have been implemented.                                                                            
He continued, the good news in terms of implementing the                                                                        
software is that Alaska is already using the required Active                                                                    
Vote sheet, however, the current software is different from                                                                     
that needed.  Implementing that change would cost $200                                                                          
thousand dollars.  Mr. Hill suggested that an alternative                                                                       
method could be used which would not require software to be                                                                     
changed.  Such a method would involve hand counting the                                                                         
ballot choices on election night.                                                                                               
Mr. Hill added that with the proposed system of transferring                                                                    
a vote on the ballot, there would be no advantages to bullet                                                                    
voting.  The vote is not transferred until the first                                                                            
candidate has lost.                                                                                                             
(Tape Change HFC 99 - 88, Side 2).                                                                                              
Mr. Hill explained on how the two round run off works.  All                                                                     
voted candidates continue to be in the ranks.  He noted that                                                                    
in Ireland and Australia, they do not have write-in votes.                                                                      
That is a new idea coming out of Cambridge.  In Alaska, one                                                                     
write-in would be allowed.  Mr. Hill commented how highly                                                                       
sensitized the machinery is that counts ballots.  In some                                                                       
situations, the ballot that is improperly marked could be                                                                       
"spit" out of the tallying machine.                                                                                             
Co-Chair Therriault questioned if Massachusetts was the only                                                                    
State nationally using the proposed system.  Mr. Hill                                                                           
replied that Massachusetts is as does the City of New York                                                                      
for community school board elections.                                                                                           
Representative Grussendorf pointed out that the video                                                                           
mentioned that there would be no primary elections.  He                                                                         
asked if it was the intent that an IRV would be used in the                                                                     
primary election.  He noted that Ireland and Australia are                                                                      
unitary in nature and do not have the separation of powers.                                                                     
Representative Grussendorf cautioned that the proposed                                                                          
system will create complications and questioned why Alaska                                                                      
would elect to implement such a system.                                                                                         
Mr. Hill replied that it is possible with the transferable                                                                      
ballot system to do away with primaries.  He agreed that                                                                        
would be sometimes advantageous and sometimes not.  He noted                                                                    
that nothing would change with the separation of powers in                                                                      
the proposal before the Committee. The bill would provide a                                                                     
means in which the majority of the electorate provide the                                                                       
Representative J. Davies questioned if the legislation would                                                                    
require a closed primary.  Mr. Hill replied that the way in                                                                     
which the bill is currently written would require a closed                                                                      
primary.  Representative J. Davies interjected that Alaska                                                                      
currently has an open primary that the population favors.                                                                       
Representative Grussendorf questioned if the intent was to                                                                      
include primaries.  Co-Chair Therriault replied that the                                                                        
proposed legislation does not do away with primaries.                                                                           
Representative Grussendorf argued that the bill specifies                                                                       
that it would "reduce" the necessity for primaries.                                                                             
Representative Foster voiced confusion with the legislation.                                                                    
He asked what the effect of negative voting would have in an                                                                    
election.  Mr. Hill provided an example of a past                                                                               
presidential election.  Some people vote for the greater or                                                                     
lesser of two evils one being the second choice.  The                                                                           
proposed system would free voters up to vote for who they                                                                       
really want.  Co-Chair Therriault summarized that if there                                                                      
were three people running for three spots, a sway could                                                                         
occur by casting one vote.                                                                                                      
Representative J. Davies spoke to the cost of buying new                                                                        
software and asked if Mr. Hill's group would be willing to                                                                      
help the State defray some of the costs associated with that                                                                    
charge.  Mr. Hill replied that CVD is a non-profit                                                                              
educational organization, however, noted that other states                                                                      
are contemplating the system and might be willing to                                                                            
negotiate a cost share development.                                                                                             
Representative J. Davies asked why the video called the                                                                         
present system "unfair".  Mr. Hill proposed that the value                                                                      
exists in that the majority rules in an IRV election.                                                                           
"Fairness" could be a mark of a voting system not giving                                                                        
voters what they ask for.  Voting systems all have certain                                                                      
values attached to them, and the value of preferential                                                                          
voting is that the majority rules.                                                                                              
Representative Grussendorf asked if New Mexico had accepted                                                                     
the new form of election.  Mr. Hill replied that the bill                                                                       
passed in the New Mexico Senate and then died in the House.                                                                     
Representative Grussendorf reiterated the facts regarding                                                                       
the cost of the software and who could purchase the rights                                                                      
to use it from the State of Alaska.  Mr. Hill reiterated                                                                        
that there are other states that are seriously looking at                                                                       
the possibility of using this system.                                                                                           
Representative J. Davies questioned if Mr. Hill would                                                                           
portray Alaska as currently "looking into using the system"                                                                     
if it was rejected here.  Mr. Hill spoke to the cost,                                                                           
pointing out that to amortize the $200 thousand dollar cost                                                                     
over 10 years would be $20 thousand dollars per year.                                                                           
GAIL FENUMIAI, ELECTION PROGRAM SPECIALIST, OFFICE OF THE                                                                       
LT. GOVERNOR, voiced concern with HB 141 and the Division's                                                                     
ability to work the proposed version.                                                                                           
Ms. Fenumiai expounded on statements made by Mr. Hill.  She                                                                     
stated that the global designed software would make Alaska                                                                      
the only state using it.  At this time, there is no one else                                                                    
to help off set that cost.  Additionally, New York recently                                                                     
dropped using the system for their school board elections                                                                       
because it took too long to tally the votes.                                                                                    
Ms. Fenumiai noted that the Division of Elections                                                                               
anticipates problems for the election board trainers and                                                                        
workers.  Presently, the Division has a difficult time                                                                          
recruiting workers.  The workers they do have spend many                                                                        
hours at polling locations to count the ballots.  The                                                                           
legislation will require extra election board workers.  If                                                                      
handout count teams are required to spend more time in the                                                                      
district locations than they already are, it will be more                                                                       
difficult recruiting.                                                                                                           
An additional concern is the amount of time it would take to                                                                    
provide results.  In Alaska, absentee ballots can be                                                                            
received up to fifteen days after Election Day.  The actual                                                                     
transferring of votes could take as long as the 15th day,                                                                       
the date when the State Review Board begins their process.                                                                      
Such action could cause an additional delay of validating                                                                       
the certified winner.                                                                                                           
Ms. Fenumiai continued, write in votes would continue to                                                                        
create a host of problems.  In order to determine who the                                                                       
lowest first choice vote would be, the Division would be                                                                        
required to individually count the write in votes.  She                                                                         
stressed the amount of time and cost that would mandate.                                                                        
Additionally, the mis-marked ballots create concern; how                                                                        
would they be dealt with.  Language must clarify that in the                                                                    
bill, without which, would make the legislation open to                                                                         
legal challenge.                                                                                                                
Mr. Fenumiai believed that the proposed legislation would                                                                       
create confusion for the voters. The process will take a lot                                                                    
longer placing the certification of an election around                                                                          
December 12th, which is in conflict with the State                                                                              
Constitution, Article 3, Section 4:                                                                                             
"The Governor shall be sworn in the first                                                                                       
Monday in December, following the election".                                                                                    
 The time would make that one week later. The Division's                                                                        
concern regarding the length of time it will take to                                                                            
transfer votes, the redistribution of ballots, and the State                                                                    
Review Board's needs.                                                                                                           
Representative Bunde questioned the fiscal note accompanying                                                                    
the legislation.  Ms. Fenumiai explained that the fiscal                                                                        
note would add an additional 160 acti-vote precinct                                                                             
tabulators in precincts throughout the State, accounting for                                                                    
over $1 million dollars.  She expected that there would be                                                                      
additional costs on either end of the process. If votes were                                                                    
hand counted in the precincts and the first choice vote only                                                                    
marked, the remaining choices would be moved to a central                                                                       
location such as Juneau.  She emphasized the amount of time                                                                     
and money that would require.  To achieve the quickest and                                                                      
most accurate results would be to place tabulators in all                                                                       
452 precincts throughout the State.  Ms. Fenumiai concluded,                                                                    
it is not known if our current system can be modified to                                                                        
count the other choices.  She acknowledged that the vendor                                                                      
has instructed the Division that program modifications can                                                                      
be made to accommodate this type of voting system, however,                                                                     
the details have not been worked out.                                                                                           
Representative J. Davies pointed out that hand counting                                                                         
could be a cheaper way to go in the first year, however that                                                                    
expense would be a reoccurring cost for every election.  He                                                                     
reiterated his concern with losing the primary election                                                                         
ballot and the cross voting which would occur within                                                                            
political parties.                                                                                                              
Representative Bunde asked if it was necessary to have a                                                                        
closed primary for this system to work.  Ms. Femumiai                                                                           
defrayed that question to the sponsor. She asked what would                                                                     
happen in a two-candidate race where neither candidate                                                                          
received 50% of the vote.                                                                                                       
CHRIS COOK, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), CHAIR, ALASKA                                                                       
DEMOCRATIC PARTY, BETHEL, requested the Committee to ponder                                                                     
several points which the bill would implement.  It would                                                                        
change the voting rights of the populace  which he believed                                                                     
should not be considered without public debate and                                                                              
consensus.  The vast majority of Alaskans agree with the                                                                        
current system.                                                                                                                 
(Tape Change HFC 99 - 89, Side 1).                                                                                              
Mr. Cook reiterated that the proposed voting system is                                                                          
untried and unproven.  It would be expensive to implement as                                                                    
the software does not exist at this time.  He recommended                                                                       
that a mock system should initially be set up.  The                                                                             
difficulty with the proposed system would be magnified 100%                                                                     
once it reaches the general public.  He believed that it                                                                        
will confuse voters and delay voting results.  The proposed                                                                     
system would be particularly difficult for two types of                                                                         
* Those that do not have English as their 1st                                                                                   
language; and                                                                                                                   
* Those that come from the other 49 states where                                                                                
this system is not used.  He argued that                                                                                        
complications in the preferential voting system                                                                                 
would discourage more voters from turning out.                                                                                  
Mr. Cook continued, the chemistry of the entire election                                                                        
system would change with run off elections.  The majority                                                                       
vote requirement is not part of the present constitution and                                                                    
implementation would require a constitutional change.                                                                           
The concept that to have a majority vote is needed to win an                                                                    
office conflicts with Alaska's having multiple candidates                                                                       
for a party.  Mr. Cook summarized, the proposed system could                                                                    
lead to legal challenges from the Voting Rights Act as it                                                                       
could deny certain groups access to the right of                                                                                
participation.  He emphasized that the current system serves                                                                    
the State well and why fix something that is not broken.                                                                        
Co-Chair Therriault disagreed that the proposed legislation                                                                     
would "tinker" with a person's right to vote.                                                                                   
Representative Bunde believed that the bill would encourage                                                                     
multiple party's participation.                                                                                                 
KATHLEEN STRASBAUGH, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, DEPARTMENT                                                                     
OF LAW, stated that there are legal issues regarding the                                                                        
legislation.  She advised that in order for the State to                                                                        
apply the proposed legislation to the gubernatorial race,                                                                       
there would need to be a constitutional amendment added.                                                                        
She pointed out that a stipulation had deliberately added to                                                                    
the Alaska State Constitution addressing votes received.                                                                        
That language was incorporated understanding that there                                                                         
would be no run off.  She noted that there would be a                                                                           
dispute if that were required and pointed out that HJR 31                                                                       
had been proposed to address that issue.                                                                                        
Ms. Strasbaugh agreed that the concerns of the Division of                                                                      
Elections were well founded.  Practical problems can lead to                                                                    
litigation based on general election laws.  In Alaska, the                                                                      
right to a write-in vote is not a constitutional                                                                                
determination.  It has not been addressed, however, some                                                                        
states do view write-in voting as an effective way.  Court                                                                      
cases tend to arise when there is difficulty in determining                                                                     
the voter's intent.                                                                                                             
Ms. Strasbaugh spoke to primary election concerns.  People                                                                      
in Alaska are accustomed to being able to vote for whomever                                                                     
they like in the primary election.  She guaranteed that                                                                         
logic would not enter into it.  She foresaw voters arguing                                                                      
with the poll workers which could become a serious issue.                                                                       
There are other elements of "surprise" in the proposed                                                                          
system which will lead to litigation.  It is important that                                                                     
the poll workers are not required to discuss the voting                                                                         
procedures and strategy.  Voting will become a strategic                                                                        
Ms. Strasbaugh distributed a handout - Scenario #2.  [Copy                                                                      
on File].  She explained that the handout illustrates                                                                           
possible voting scenarios, stressing how complex the voters                                                                     
thinking will need to become in order to fill out the                                                                           
ballot.  These factors are important considerations with                                                                        
passage of this legislation.                                                                                                    
Ms. Strasbaugh contended that there is a lack of press                                                                          
addressing this concept.  Nationally,   certain                                                                                 
municipalities have had some experience with per                                                                                
proportionate voting.  Another alternative is the cumulative                                                                    
voting method which was used and abandoned after 110 years                                                                      
by the Illinois Legislature.  She explained that the purpose                                                                    
of that system was established during the Civil War, when                                                                       
there were very polarized voting relationships, it was                                                                          
essential to guarantee that each party had an adequate vote.                                                                    
There is something in every new system that "worries" people                                                                    
that their vote is not receiving proper treatment.  Some                                                                        
voters feel that minority parties will have too much power                                                                      
if these types of systems are put into place.                                                                                   
Ms. Strasbaugh acknowledged that there are other voters                                                                         
interested in alternative voting procedures.  These are the                                                                     
academic commentators and the participants in voting rights                                                                     
litigation.  The Courts are looking closely at redistricting                                                                    
which creates an additional voting concern.  An alternate                                                                       
system that has been discussed is the multi-member                                                                              
Ms. Strasbaugh concluded, Italy is currently trying to get                                                                      
rid of the voting preference scheme.  Shri Lanka is another                                                                     
place that employs this type of voting that is looking at                                                                       
other considerations.  The United Kingdom has spent the last                                                                    
year studying if they should change their current system to                                                                     
a procedure used in the U.S. or to incorporate preference                                                                       
voting.  The voters in that country will make the decision.                                                                     
CRAIG BLACK, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF LAW,                                                                     
walked Committee members through a potential scenario which                                                                     
could result from passage of the proposed legislation.                                                                          
Mr. Black distributed a handout called "Surprising Results                                                                      
from HB 141".  [Copy on File].  He addressed examples of a                                                                      
general election, illustrating how HB 141 would not keep                                                                        
candidates who are "out of step" with the public, from being                                                                    
elected into office.                                                                                                            
JOHN LINDBACK, CHIEF OF STAFF, OFFICE OF THE LT. GOVERNOR,                                                                      
stated that there are significant issues which need to be                                                                       
addressed with the proposed legislation.  He noted that the                                                                     
Lt. Governor has serious concerns about the bill and is                                                                         
opposed to the legislation on legislative grounds relating                                                                      
 * Fairness;                                                                                                                    
 * Legal Problems;                                                                                                              
* The speed which this policy issue appears to be                                                                               
moving through the Legislature;                                                                                                 
 * Budget priorities; and                                                                                                       
* Expectation that Alaska would be serving as the                                                                               
"lab rat" for the rest of the Nation.                                                                                           
Mr. Lindback pointed out that most Alaskans feel "just fine"                                                                    
about the outcome of local elections since inception at                                                                         
statehood.  He stated that the proposed voting system does                                                                      
not provide the mandate that voters want.  The proposed                                                                         
system would produce a candidate that received less than 50%                                                                    
of the first vote round and then was pushed over the top by                                                                     
a second pool of voters.  He emphasized that is not a                                                                           
majority mandate and would provide for someone who is not a                                                                     
majority candidate.  That would be a false mandate and is                                                                       
misleading to suggest that would be a true mandate.                                                                             
Mr. Lindback stated that the proposed system would be                                                                           
inherently unfair to mainstream voters, by providing third                                                                      
party voters two votes while the mainstream voters receive                                                                      
one vote.  People like the idea of ranking candidate so that                                                                    
they can say on the ballot who they do "not" like.  However,                                                                    
when you explain to the voter how the redistribution works,                                                                     
the voter begins to become concerned, because they discover                                                                     
that the second choice will factor into the equation of who                                                                     
wins the race.  The way the bill is structured, the third                                                                       
party voters have their votes redistributed which means that                                                                    
the third party voter receives two votes and the mainstream                                                                     
voter receives one vote.  People do not like that.  It does                                                                     
not sound fair to them.  He emphasized that this bill                                                                           
deserves and requires major consideration by the public.                                                                        
Mr. Lindback advised that Mr. Hill did acknowledge that the                                                                     
proposed legislation recommends a closed primary.  He noted                                                                     
that Lt. Governor Ulmer clarified that there is a section of                                                                    
the bill which is closed primary and foresees litigation                                                                        
through its implementation. The legislation will restrict                                                                       
people from roaming the ballot.                                                                                                 
Co-Chair Therriault suggested that there is a difference                                                                        
between "roaming the ballot" and being restricted by not                                                                        
having a chance to pick between the parties.  Mr. Lindback                                                                      
understood that distinction.                                                                                                    
Mr. Lindback reiterated that no other state is implementing                                                                     
this procedure.  Alaska will be the "lab rat" for the rest                                                                      
of the Nation.  He pointed out that this bill was introduced                                                                    
twice in Vermont, going no where, as no one understands why                                                                     
we need to fix something that is not broken.                                                                                    
Mr. Lindback indicated that John Anderson, an unsuccessful                                                                      
third party candidate, started the group Mr. Hill works for.                                                                    
He elaborated that this bill has appeal to third parties.                                                                       
Mr. Lindback had asked Center for Voting Democracy (CVD)                                                                        
why they had not spent the $200 thousand dollars for the                                                                        
software so that they could provide it freely to individual                                                                     
states.  The response was they were too small to undertake                                                                      
that cost.  The Office of the Lt. Governor expressed that is                                                                    
not fair, suggesting that Alaska should incur the expense                                                                       
for the rest of the Nation.  If we are considering being the                                                                    
lab rats for the rest of the states, it is important that                                                                       
State voters are consulted.                                                                                                     
(Tape Change HFC 99 - 89, Side 2).                                                                                              
Mr. Lindback spoke to funding the proposed legislation.  He                                                                     
stated that there are greater concerns which this year's                                                                        
limited budget should address.  Mr. Lindback urged Committee                                                                    
members to slow the process down.  He referenced a handout                                                                      
provided in member's files from the League of Women Voters,                                                                     
requesting that the process slow down.  [Copy on File].                                                                         
Additionally, he pointed out that the legislation could                                                                         
require two constitutional amendments.                                                                                          
Representative J. Davies observed that only in two of the                                                                       
last ten gubernatorial elections was a clear majority                                                                           
reached.  He added that an argument regarding the fairness                                                                      
of any election will always exist.  He was convinced that                                                                       
the proposed legislation would not get the State closer to a                                                                    
fair solution.                                                                                                                  
Co-Chair Therriault commented that the fiscal note appears                                                                      
to be high.  He requested further information regarding the                                                                     
HB 141 was HELD in Committee for further consideration.                                                                         

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