Legislature(1995 - 1996)
02/11/1995 10:02 AM House STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HSTA - 02/11/95 HB 132 - CANDIDATES FOR STATEWIDE BALLOT Number 190 REPRESENTATIVE JERRY MACKIE, sponsor of House Bill 132, read his sponsor statement: I introduced HB 132 to bring parity to the state's election process. The principle provision of the bill is the requirement that all candidates for state elective office must enter the primary election contest. Currently, any Alaskan citizen eligible for elective office may bypass the state's primary election and be placed directly on the general election ballot by a nominating petition. In my view, this causes two inequities. First, the voters are denied full knowledge at the onset of all contestants seeking election to a particular office. Voter access to financial disclosure information of petition candidates is delayed until just two months before the general election. Furthermore, voter exposure to petition candidates' views and positions on issues of public interest is many times limited and compressed. The second inequity is that the petition process provides a short cut avenue to the general election ballot. It thus acts as an incentive for citizens to get directly on the general election ballot, because it saves money and the campaign scrutiny by the electorate is short. While independent candidates have occasionally won elective office, they more often act as spoilers to the competition between primary election winners. In effect then, the two ballot, primary-general election system, designed to winnow the many candidates down to contests between the few, is subverted. The infusion of petition candidates onto the general election ballot can make it an election system of few primary contests transcending into contests among the many in the general election. HB 132 would place all candidates before the electorate on an equal footing. This is accomplished by requiring all candidates to be in the primary election. Just as the top vote getter of each political group will move on to the general election ballot, so too will the top vote getter among all independent candidates for a particular elective office. In this manner, the electorate will have an equal opportunity to view and assess all candidates for an elective office. And each candidate will be equally challenged by the election process. He continued that he was inspired to file this bill, not by any personalities or individuals, but because of complaints that allowing candidates to enter the election after the primary doesn't give voters a chance to get familiar with the candidates, their Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) reports, or their campaign fund sources, and that it is confusing to the voters because they don't see their candidate's name on the ballot in the primary. He filed the bill with public interest, not political fallout, in mind. The Speaker of the House is the bill's co-sponsor, which gives it a nonpartisan approach. Number 272 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER offered a scenario with a primary ballot containing two Republicans, two Democrats, one Independent Republican, two Independent Democrats, one Green, and one AIP. He asked if, after the primary, the general election ballot would contain one Republican, one Democrat, the one Independent Republican who was unopposed, one Independent Democrat, one Green, and one AIP. REPRESENTATIVE MACKIE replied that would be correct, and that is possible right now. The only changes HB 132 would make is in not allowing a candidate to bypass the primary and requiring all candidates to file by June 1. He said he has no desire to restrict anyone's ability to run for office under any party name as long as they get enough petition signatures, nor does he want to rewrite election laws. His aim is to create a level playing field. Number 333 CHAIR JAMES pointed out that some candidates do not designate a party and instead run as a "small" i (for independent). If several candidates do this, she asked if then only one would advance to the general election. REPRESENTATIVE MACKIE replied this was correct. CHAIR JAMES said this means that by not choosing a party, candidates have, by default, chosen a "small" i designation, which is a very popular choice, and she feared this would discourage independent candidates from choosing to run as a "small" i so they could run unopposed. She stated she really supports this bill, but wants to be sure they aren't eliminating potential candidates. REPRESENTATIVE MACKIE clarified that the purpose of a primary election is to narrow the scope. Under HB 132, all candidates filing for office will be told by the Division of Elections that if they don't declare a party it is possible they will be opposed in the primary by other undeclared candidates. Number 400 CHAIR JAMES noted that she has always been politically active and recognizes the importance of affiliating with a party in order to get the grassroots support, and the prime purpose of a primary is for parties to select the candidates they want to support. REPRESENTATIVE MACKIE stated that his bill doesn't change this, it only changes the filing deadline to June 1 instead of August 1 for all candidates. Number 442 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN observed this bill puts all potential nonrecognized parties on the same playing field with the recognized parties and keeps candidates from getting "blind sided" after the primary because all candidates are known early on. He supports the bill. Number 458 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER stated he supports the bill, and asked if a closed primary would preclude the ability to pass a statute that any candidate receiving 51 percent in the primary would be declared the winner. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON cautioned that the primary often draws a small number of voters, and that would make it possible for a candidate to get 51 percent of the vote with only one-quarter of the voters. Number 482 REPRESENTATIVE MACKIE agreed, adding that often in a primary election, only 18-20 percent of registered voters vote, especially in rural areas where people are fishing in the summer. He would be afraid of having the election outcome decided by 51 percent of 18 percent, essentially 9 percent of the registered voters. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER theorized that the lack of interest in the primary is because it doesn't affect the selection process very much, and if voters had to consider all primary candidates seriously, the turnout would be higher and more people would vote absentee. REPRESENTATIVE MACKIE observed that, more than in any other state, Alaskans vote for the individual, and statistics show that if someone votes for a candidate in the primary, he or she will support that same candidate in the general election. The closed Republican primary can put Republican candidates at a disadvantage if they have a low number of votes in the primary. Number 530 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON said she would like to see everyone file in August so the whole process would be shortened, in some future bill. CHAIR JAMES agreed that the process is too long and too expensive, and suggested one general election with a run-off as opposed to a primary and a general election. Number 543 DAVID KOIVUNIEMI, acting Director, Division of Elections, responded to Representative Porter's question by stating that the constitution requires the Governor and Lt. Governor to be elected at a general election, even if they got 51 percent of the votes in the primary, and that maybe it would only require a change in the names of the election. For the record, he stated that the Division of Elections has a neutral position on HB 132, and that it would have no fiscal impact. He pointed out that the bill could create some interesting combinations during the general election, for example a candidate for Governor who did not designate a political party could be teamed with a candidate for Lt. Governor who also did not designate a party, but the two could be philosophically and politically opposite. But he stated that is their choice, and they could avoid it by designating a political group. Number 578 REPRESENTATIVE WILLIS said he's gone through the process twice as an Independent, and it is not easy. He said he did not want to sound self-serving, but he asked Dave to explain the process of what this bill would require of someone wanting to run as an Independent. MR. KOIVUNIEMI answered that he would have to do exactly the same thing as he currently does, though the filing deadline would change from August 1 to June 1. He would still have to get signatures on his petition from one percent of the registered voters who voted in the last election, but he would appear on the ballot twice, in the primary and the general elections. REPRESENTATIVE WILLIS stated that it would make it easier if he were required to be on the primary ballot, because people get confused when they think he is running, but don't see his name on the primary ballot. Number 615 REPRESENTATIVE MACKIE reiterated that the only difference for an Independent candidate would be the filing deadline of June 1 and the appearance on two ballots instead of one, and all candidates would fall under the same APOC reporting requirements which serves the best interest of the public. MR. KOIVUNIEMI said this is true for all legislative candidates, but candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor each would have to file a petition. Currently the Governor just designates a Lt. Governor on the same petition, and this is deleted by HB 132, so instead of 2,167 signatures on one petition they would have to get that number on two petitions. REPRESENTATIVE MACKIE said he believes this is good because each candidate should have to be dedicated enough to get these signatures. Number 659 REPRESENTATIVE WILLIS asked for an explanation of how the different parties are categorized, and asked if all unrecognized parties would be put under the banner of Independents. REPRESENTATIVE MACKIE replied no, that only those parties with the exact same names would be lumped together. This is the same as current law. Number 675 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON noted that although there is a zero fiscal note the bill has a Finance Committee referral. REPRESENTATIVE MACKIE said the bill has an automatic Finance Committee referral and will have to go there since the bill creates a major policy change and needs to be scrutinized by the Finance Committee. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON moved that HB 132 be moved out of committee with individual recommendations and a zero fiscal note. Hearing no objection, the motion passed. CHAIR JAMES announced the next meeting would be a joint confirmation hearing Tuesday at 8:00 a.m. with Senate State Affairs in the House Finance Committee room. Number 700 CHAIR JAMES adjourned the meeting at 11:45 p.m.