Legislature(1999 - 2000)
03/30/1999 08:07 AM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 141-PREFERENTIAL VOTING Number 087 CHAIR JAMES announced SSHB 141, "An Act providing for preferential voting in state and local elections," is before the committee. Number 103 REPRESENTATIVE HUDSON moved to adopt CSSSHB 141, version LS0669\K, Kurtz, 3/25/99, as the working document before the committee. There being no objection, it was so ordered. Number 116 KELLY SULLIVAN, Secretary to Representative Pete Kott, read the following sponsor statement: Alaska has a history of electing minority candidates who collected a plurality of votes cast, but not a majority. The underlined principle of a democratic form of government is that the majority rules. So, HB 141 - it eliminates the possibility of having a minority candidate win an election and it forces a 50 percent plus one of the votes cast. An example of a minority candidate winning an election would be a three-way race in which no candidate received over 50 percent of the votes cast. House Bill 141 allows a voter to prioritize their preferences by ranking each candidate with their first, second and third choice. If no candidate received over 50 percent of the votes cast from the first tally of the votes, then the candidate with the least votes would be eliminated, and the second choice votes would then be distributed for remaining candidates. Then the votes would be retabulated using a ranking system in state. Local and federal elections would ensure that the winning candidate received at least 50 percent of the votes cast - and to keep going until you get a majority of the votes. The bill goes into some length to explain the procedures necessary to manage the preferential style of voting. It's the sponsor's belief that this is going to be a more fair and more democratic process than our current system of voting. Number 190 MS. SULLIVAN drew the committee members' attention to a video which describes the preferential voting system [seven minutes long]. Number 350 ROBERT RICHIE, Executive Director, Center for Voting and Democracy (the organization that produced the video) testified via teleconference from Washington, D.C. He stated that the center is a national organization which is focusing on researching and disseminating information on how election systems affect voter turnout, governance and representation. He noted that the organization focuses in particular on how to reform plurality elections in ways that will better promote majority rule and higher participation. Mister Richie mentioned the center is a 501(c)(3) education organization. MR. RICHIE said he has been the executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy since 1992 and some of the activities that he has engaged in are listed in his prepared testimony [included in the packet]. MR. RICHIE read the following testimony: Regarding HB 141, I'm not going to presume to tell you whether preferential voting is the ideal system for Alaska. But, I can discuss the following matters with great confidence: how preferential voting works; the history of the system; how and why preferential voting is gathering growing support in other states and around the world and the specific matters relating to the bill before you; some matters of statutory language and also relating to the constitutionality of using preferential voting for federal elections. And I do want to stress that our center is prepared to do whatever we can to be helpful and to answer any questions today, or those that come out of the hearing. Number 385 How preferential voting works Preferential voting is a well-established voting system for electing a single winner from a field of candidates for a particular office. Each of these names suggests how the system works. ... "Preferential voting" describes what voters do in a case of expressing their preferences. The "alternative vote" makes sense because voters have an alternative selection if their first choice candidate is too weak to win. And then of course, "instant runoff voting" derives from the fact that the method of voting simulates a runoff election. The experience of other nations using preferential voting shows that the system is quite easy for voters. Voters of course have the option to vote just as they do now, ranking only one candidate, but they have additional options that in many ways make voting easier for them. They don't have to make some of the calculations that they might have to make when they only had one vote about candidate viability and the prospect of wasting their vote. Instead they have every incentive to simply vote for their favorite candidate first, next favorite second and so on because they know that their ballot can still count toward a winner if their first choice loses. Number 419 There are strong arguments in favor of the system. Just some of them that we'd like to stress are that it does create a mandate for the winner through that candidate's accumulation of a majority of the vote. It reduces the number of votes cast for losing candidates maximizing the number of votes that will count for a winner. It increases the number of choices available to voters. And the combination of all of that I think tends to boost voter turnout. As an additional argument, I think particularly pertinent to its adoption in primary elections, preferential voting undercuts the worst abuses of negative campaigning, as candidates will be aware that they may need to be the second-choice of supporters of other candidates. And finally, note that while preferential voting simulates a runoff, it has definitive advantages over the traditional two-round runoffs. Two-round runoffs basically require taxpayers to fund for a second election; they can vary greatly in voter turnout and enthusiasm between the fist and second rounds; and it can force candidates and organizations to have to mobilize their supporters twice rather than get it all done at one time. The history of preferential voting [Available in the committee packet]. Number 460 The recent rise in interest in preferential voting I think that, as we are able to handle these matters of election administration and ballot counting better and better, there seems to be a real dramatic rise in interest in the United States. ... Vermont is a particularly, I think, a good case. There are particular reasons why preferential voting makes sense there [mock elections were held in the schools]. The gist of it is, is they have a majority requirement in the constitution for statewide offices, and if no candidate wins a majority then the legislature has to elect that office. And they've just gone to a campaign finance system that will probably make it easier for a minor party and independent candidates to run more strongly and thus join more and more of the states that are already electing plurality governors. But in the case of Vermont - that would lead to the legislature actually having to elect the office - and there was a commission that was formed last year by the legislature, which at the end of its work, made a unanimous recommendation to go to preferential voting for both federal and statewide elections in Vermont. And the bill is being looked at closely this year, and I think there is a very decent prospect of its adoption there. There also was a very strong interest this year in New Mexico where the state senate passed a constitutional amendment very similar to your HB 141. And we also know of legislation that has been introduced (or will be introduced) in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Organ, Pennsylvania, and Texas. And I think there are going to be others as well this year - and this is all new because this is something that a lot of people hadn't heard of, just two or three years ago. But I think it's a system that the more people hear about it, it seems the more that they think it's a good system worthy of discussion and perhaps implementation. And I think that our times have created conditions where that might be particularly true, the shrinking of voter turnout, a rise in participation of minor party and independent candidates. And I think perhaps an excessive degree of negative campaigning that is driving good people from participation in politics. [Mr. Ritchie referred to mock elections being held in schools and colleges in Vermont]. My written testimony does get into the matter of its legality for federal elections and also a few suggestions for changes you might want to consider in the actual language of the bill. [Included in the packet]. Number 520 REPRESENTATIVE OGAN asked if people can be targeted, "vote once, vote for me." MR. RITCHIE replied HB 141 really doesn't because you don't get any edge out of being someone's only choice. He explained that the ballot will only go onto another choice if you're the weakest candidate in the filed with the fewest votes. If you urge your supporters not to rank anyone second that simply means that if you are dropped during the course of the count, that the ballot cast for you won't go to help decide the rest of the field. However, it does help the candidate that has both core support and the capacity to pick up any transfer votes from a weak candidate. MR. RITCHIE said, "A key point to make is that quite often the mechanism of transfers will not kick in. When they used this system in Australia ... and they've had it for many years, voters had a lot of opportunity to look at non-major party candidates. It certainly kicks in sometimes, but the majority of races are won right on the first count - so the winner just gets more than 50 percent of first choices and that's that. But if we're already seeing more and more races won by plurality, and certainly Alaska is one of many states where we've seen a lot of plurality victories in key races, that's where the system really can do a service to voters by giving them a chance to get their majority winner." Number 561 REPRESENTATIVE OGAN said preferential voting tends to favor the candidate that receives the most single votes. MR. RITCHIE replied that the candidate is in the best position to win, but if they don't have a majority of the votes they also have to pick up second and third choices from other voters. He indicated that it doesn't reward them any more than the current system. And in some ways it better assures that their candidate can also reach out and gain the support of voters, voters beyond their core support. REPRESENTATIVE HUDSON asked if preferential voting would increase a voter turnout. MR. RITCHIE indicated that it seems to increase turnouts in a longstanding way, however, it is sometimes hard to do cross-country comparisons. He said the general perception among political scientists is that this will draw more voters to the poll. REPRESENTATIVE SMALLEY asked if Vermont has had an increased voter turnout. MR. RITCHIE pointed out that those were actually mock elections. He noted that the legislation that was introduced last year to implement the system in Vermont was not enacted. Number 637 REPRESENTATIVE SMALLEY clarified that no states have passed or adopted a preferential voting system. MR. RITCHIE confirmed that no state currently uses the system. It's gone from being a system which is being discussed much in other countries and used in some, however not really talked about in the U.S. to a really dramatic rise in interest. It's all been in the last two or three years that any legislation has been introduced anywhere in the U.S. CHAIR JAMES announced that former Representative Fritz Pettyjohn is observing in Anchorage. Number 658 GAIL FENUMIAI, Election Program Specialist, Division of Elections, Office of the Lieutenant Governor, testified that there are technical problems with HB 141. She said the division believes that the present version is not workable with current law and current voting equipment. Furthermore, there also would be a need to make numerous internal policy calls which need to be discussed and determined at greater lengths. Therefore, the Division of Elections doesn't see the voting method being easy on anyone; the voters, the election board workers (whether you're in a hand-count precinct or you're in an electronically counted precinct). MS. FENUMIAI stated, "The first thing I would like to comment on is that our new ballot tabulation system, that was purchased last year for the tune of approximately $2 million, cannot accommodate this type of voting method without some significant modification." She said Larry Engsminger, Global Election Systems, can testify as to what modifications might be needed, how long it would take, and to the cost. MS. FENUMIAI said she had been in contact with the election office in Vermont and pointed out that Vermont's legislation on preferential voting has pretty much been stalled in the House of Representatives. When she discussed this with them, a week or so ago, they informed her that they did not foresee it moving. A similar bill was also introduced in Vermont in the previous session but did not either. Ms. Fenumiai explained that New Mexico's version of preferential voting did pass the state Senate, however, (they have a voting system which is direct recording equipment) there's no way that voting system could be accommodated at all to move to this type of system. She was informed the committee that it would cost $8- to $12 million to purchase new voting equipment to be able to do that [New Mexico]. Number 687 MS. FENUMIAI noted that Section 2 leads the division to believe that the redistribution of ballots is to be done at the precinct level on election night. However, this is not possible due to the fact that not all of the ballots have even been counted or received by the division because the question voting process (in which the review process does not begin until the sixth day following the election) can take up to 15 days to complete. She emphasized that absentees by mail ballots and absentee in person ballots have not all been reviewed and counted on election night, and that can be taken up the fifteenth day following the election. MS. FENUMIAI referred the 1996 general election. She said there were more than 35,000 absentee ballots and more than 16,000 question ballots which still needed to be reviewed and eligibility of count to be determined. In the 1998 general election there were more than 27,000 absentee ballots and almost 16,000 question ballots that still needed to be reviewed. In the general election of 1998 it took Talkeetna until approximately 5:00 a.m. to tabulate 694 ballots. She explained this system was done by marking one tally for each race and not having to mark a tally and then go back to redistribute and recount the ballots. MS. FENUMIAI emphasized that the Division of Elections believes asking workers, who have been there since 6:00 a.m., to stay on election night and hand-count precincts would be detrimental and perhaps lead to more problems. For instance, the division realized last year that hand-counting was less reliable than the electronic method. Number 715 MS. FENUMIAI indicated that the proponents are saying, "This is an easy method and would be easily accepted by the voters." She said that may be true in other states, it also may be true in Australia where this has been going on for 100 years, but in Alaska voters are use to doing it the way they've always done it - by making a mark for one candidate. She said, "We fell that not only would it be an educational campaign (indisc.) need to be conducted in mass for the voters, also, it would require an extensive revamping of the division's training to election boards. And we already train election boards in 453 precincts in a very compressed time frame (between June and the end of July) in order to get them ready for the primary election." MS. FENUMIAI noted that there may be confusion due to the way HB 141 is written. She said the division also feels that the boards would have to count ballots in three different methods. They would be counting ballots in one way for the primary, one way for the general election, and if the municipalities do not choose to go forth with this type of voting method they would have to go back to counting ballots in the normal fashion by tally one mark per race. She mentioned the same workers are also used for the local elections. Number 735 MS. FENUMIAI said the division feels that it would take the voters longer to vote the ballot and could perhaps increase the number of spoiled ballots thus require more ballots to be printed. She informed the committee that many complaints came in during the general election of 1998 of how long it took voters to vote due to the fact that the ballot it was such a long ballot. Furthermore, the more times ballots are handled, the more chances are that marks can be smudged and could lead to ballots having to be remarked. She also stressed that this could lead to an increase in ballot printing costs due to the complexity of the ballot layout. MS. FENUMIAI referred to Section 7, page 5, which reads: The director shall include instructions on primary election ballots directing the voter to mark candidates for an office within a single political party in order of preference and to mark as many choices as the voter wishes within a single political party, but not to assign a particular ranking to more than one candidate or to rank candidates more than one party. Number 745 MS. FENUMIAI explained that Section 7 limits how voters can mark votes for a candidate in a primary election. She said it is essentially saying that once you mark a vote for a Green candidate that you can only rank candidates within that party. This is in a sense making Alaska's primary a closed primary. She noted that the division has asked the Department of Law to look into this. MS. FENUMIAI indicated that HB 141 has many unanswered questions; how to interpret other sections in Title 15 regarding not much guidance to ballot layouts; how the ballot would be designed; how to deal with special advanced ballots that are mailed to overseas voters (60 days before the election); and how to deal with write-in candidates. She said, "If write-in candidates have the least number in a general election, have the least number of first-choice votes (we don't normally count write-in candidates) would we be required to count all the write-in candidates; and then redistribute votes for the candidate who got one vote; and then move up to the candidate who got three votes; and then move up to the candidate who got 25 votes? That's an unanswered question." MS. FENUMIAI stated that there is no standard method of preferential voting - as mentioned there are many different flavors out there. So, what works in one state is not necessarily going to be the same method that has been introduced in Alaska. Number 770 MS. FENUMIAI referred to Section 3 which reads: In addition, a voter may mark a ballot by the use of roman and Arabic numerals that are clearly spaced in one of the squares opposite the name of the candidate that the voter desires to designate. MS. FENUMIAI explained that the ballot scanner tabulates ballots only based on the amount of light and darkness and the division is not certain on how this would work because the handwriting of as individuals is very different. MS. FENUMIAI concluded that the division also has a question about how this could reduce the ability to detect fraud. For instance, if a voter has an option to vote for four candidates, make a preference of 1-4, and only decides to vote 1-2 (and his first place candidate did not get enough first place choices) and then he did not mark a third and fourth place choice, the division is not exactly sure how that would fit into accountability in being able to detect total number of ballots - one-person, one-vote type issue. Number 795 CHAIR JAMES referred to Section 3(2), which states, "The election board shall count hand-marked ballots." She said she believes this is the section for hand-marked ballots and is not necessarily the ballots that are read through the electronic voting system. MS. FENUMIAI remarked okay, then how do you want the ballots that are done in electronically counted precincts to be read. CHAIR JAMES said she understands that concern. Larry Engsminger might be able to respond to that. REPRESENTATIVE SMALLEY referred to the hand-marked, hand-counted ballots. He asked if there is a potential for more challenged ballots, or ballots to be thrown out due to confusion as to what the numbers reflect. MS. FENUMIAI said that's another concern. If a voter marks a first place choice for two candidates, his or her ballot would be eliminated. In the current system, they can have over-votes and mis-mark a ballot, but he or she is only required to fill in an oval once, not multiple times. She indicated that perhaps he or she can lose track. MS. FENUMIAI noted that it is difficult for the division to recruit election board workers and that it is also difficult to train them. She said it's a little frightening for the division on how the new system would work because there would be more errors in the hand-count precincts. And if that's the case, it's scary. Number 822 REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA referred to Section 2, line 4, which reads: If a ballot has no more available preferences, that ballot shall be declared void. REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA said she wondered where that concern is coming from - that you would just stop counting that ballot vote. MS. FENUMIAI replied that the Division of Elections hasn't really been able to come to a conclusion on that at this time. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN asked if these concerns had been discussed with the sponsor, Representative Kott. MS. FENUMIAI replied that the division hasn't had the opportunity to discuss this with the sponsor because HB 141 was introduced on March 17, and the sponsor substitute became available on Friday. CHAIR JAMES added that the committee now has a new CS. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN asked Ms. Fenumiai if there is anything that she likes about the bill [HB 141]. MS. FENUMIAI replied the division would like to have more time to be able to review it. Number 843 MS. FENUMIAI stressed that the Division of Elections does believe there would be a fiscal impact to the division, however, they have not had the time to put together numbers on the new CS. She reiterated that the division would like the opportunity to discuss this in greater detail with the sponsor. CHAIR JAMES stated that she cannot understand why a fiscal note isn't attached to HB 141 because there are proposed changes to the rules and regulations. She said Larry Engsminger, Global Election System, will address the issue of software changes. Chair James said the decision the legislature will have to make is, is this a good idea, will it make the democracy in this state better, and is the price worth it. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN asked, if HB 141 was in place, would Tony Knowles be Governor? MS. FENUMIAI replied that they cannot assume how the other voters would have marked second, third and fourth choices for their governor because this system was not in place at that time. She added that, "I don't think that it's fair to assume that candidates [1994 lowest vote-getters]..." TAPE 99-18, SIDE B Number 001 MS. FENUMIAI continued her discussion, "...Those votes would then probably have to be redistributed. And then 8,727 votes were given to the Green party, and then those votes would have been redistributed. And then the Alaska Independence party, with the next lowest vote-getter, that's if you hadn't received a 50 percent majority at that time. But I don't think that one can assume how these votes would have been redistributed." REPRESENTATIVE OGAN asked what was the percentage of the votes for Governor Knowles when he was elected. MS. FENUMIAI replied that it looks like 41 percent in 1994. [Mr. Wagoner had provided her this information]. Number 032 STEVE HILL, West Coast Director, Center for Voting and Democracy, testified via teleconference from San Francisco, California. He said his expertise is in the realm of voting machines and election administration. MR. HILL said the "ACCU-Vote" [ES 2000] machines in Alaska are the same machines that are used in Cambridge. Alaska has Gems software, and Windows NT-based platform. He indicated that Global, the manufacturer, has not programmed Alaska's software to handle transferrable ballots to his knowledge. MR. HILL stated, "It seems to me there's two options here if you want to use the machines to count all these transferrable ballots. One would be to find out from Global [Elections System] ... Larry Engsminger ... may be able to give you some idea of what it would cost to reprogram that Gems software to handle transferrable ballots. Since they've already gone through it in Cambridge ... hopefully it won't be nearly as much of a job as it was when they did it for Cambridge. The other potential possibility would be to use the software that Cambridge is using (VTS - Vote Tally Software) and put that into your ACCU-Vote. That would be something that Global [Elections System] would have to give an opinion on, on what they think the feasibility of that might be." MR. HILL further stated, "After having said that, there is another option of how to implement this in Alaska that would allow you to use your machines exactly as they are right now. ... What you would do is, you would count all the first-choice rankings which is analogous to what you do right now and you just simply see, 'Okay, did anyone have a majority of the vote.' If they do, then the election's over just like it is now. For the election where someone does not have a majority of the vote, then what you do is you take a look at all the first-choice rankings, and ... let's say you have an election where you have the Republican gets 42 percent of the vote, the Democrat gets 40 percent, and a Libertarian party gets 18 percent of the vote -- I don't know what Libertarians in Alaska are like but in most places their votes often transfer to Republicans more than Democrats [he begins to laugh]. But you can make a preliminary announcement that it looks like the Republican is going to win here, in this race, but you'll have to certify that at a later time. And, this is what they actually do in places like Australia and the Republic of (indisc.) that use this. They are able to make the best guess estimate of what the results are (indisc.) and they're usually correct because they have some idea of how votes transfer." Number 145 MR. HILL continued, "So you can make an estimate but, then what you would do is, is you would take the paper ballots that have been filled out and you would transport them ... to some centralized place and there you would transfer the second and third choices by a hand-count. So you would be doing this after the polls close - the next day - or however it takes you to get the ballots to the centralized place." MR. HILL reiterated that a preliminary result would be announced which would state the first choice rankings and that the final results would be announced when received. Only the second and third choices would have to be done by a hand-count. Mr. Hill noted that typically there are 250,000 votes in the election for statewide offices. Therefore, no more than 30,000 to 40,000 of the votes would have to be counted of the second and third choices in order to have a majority winner. Mr. Hill suggested that this is another process that would utilize the card machines to announce preliminary results that would be finalized upon receipt of the final count. With regard to the ease of this for voters, there will be an educational task that would have to be addressed. He pointed out that voters must be doing something differently now with the use of the ACCU-Vote machine and implied that voters are flexible if given the opportunity to adapt. MR. HILL said "In terms of write-in candidates, one of the things we recommend with Instant Run-off voting or the preferential ballot, as you've been calling it, is that you transfer all of the votes of candidates that get underneath--beneath like say one percent of the vote, you transfer them all simultaneously. And so, by doing it that way, you don't have to work through each one of these one at a time; you just transfer them all at the same time." He restated that this system is what is used in Ireland where it works fine. Number 208 MR. HILL addressed the comment that there is no standard of preferential voting. The term preferential vote sort of refers to these transferable ballots whether used in instant run-off voting or the proportion representation system. Mr. Hill said that the instant run-off voting has only one standard: the majority candidate wins. This is the standard at work here because instant run-off voting is what is really occurring. With regards to comments about handwriting versus filling in ovals, the ACCU-Vote system simply requires filling in the ovals. In Cambridge, the left-hand side of the ballot lists the names of the candidates. The right top of the ballot has vertical columns which correspond to a ranking. Therefore, one would fill in the oval corresponding to the candidate and the desired ranking of that candidate. Mr. Hill emphasized that this is not required, but is rather an option for voters. Some voters may not choose to utilize the ranking option. Mr. Hill believed that if the Irish and the Australians can handle this, so can Alaskans. In fact, Alaska's machines are more equipped for this. CHAIRMAN JAMES noted that the concerns regarding handwritten ballots emanates from the fact that Alaska does not have ACCU-Vote machines in every precinct. MS. FENUMIAI explained that the intent to make all the ballots identical in all 453 precincts is so that, even in those hand-count precincts, those ballots can be run through the ACCU-Vote machine which was the case in 1998. She said there is a necessity to keep the ballots and the way the ballots are marked uniform across the state. MR. HILL understood that approximately 15 percent of Alaska's voters use a hand-count for their precinct. Those voters would use the same ballots as the ACCU-Vote ballots use and those ballots can be hand-counted or transported to a central place to be counted by the ACCU-Vote. Mr. Hill said that it works exactly the same way. Number 296 REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA asked, "If the person wins the first time, that's the computer count. But if you have to go into the run-offs, that's all hand counting. Is that how you envision it working?" MR. HILL explained that if it is determined that it would be too expensive to reprogram the Global software or install the VTS software, there is another way to do this. The ACCU-Vote could be used for the first choices, counting those, determine which races have a majority and which do not. The races without a majority would initiate an instant run-off and the other procedure involving a hand-count of the second and third-rankings. REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA stated, then the question of how a computer will read handwriting should be addressed to Global. MR. HILL clarified that it will always be ovals. He believed that the use of the ACCU-Vote "bubble sheet" in the hand-count precincts would provide uniformity across the state. MR. RICHIE reiterated that Cambridge does use the ACCU-Vote system and have already used this with a preferential balloting system and that the Cambridge voters handled it very well. Cambridge utilized this system for the first time in 1997 and did not experience very many problems. Number 346 REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA said that she would like to see exactly what Cambridge does. The information the committee was provided shows that Cambridge marks numerals while Alaska's legislation would allow the writing in of numerals. She said this is extremely confusing. Representative Kerttula asked if either Mr. Hill of Mr. Richie had been in Alaska and viewed Alaska's system, specifically in a village setting. CHAIRMAN JAMES interjected that some villages are inaccessible by road. MR. HILL replied that he has not been in Alaska. He asked if the suggestion is that small villages inaccessible by road would be more of a barrier to instant run-offs more than any election Alaska now holds. CHAIRMAN JAMES believed that if this voting system works in one place it can work anywhere, however it is necessary to determine how to make it work for Alaska if that is the choice. Number 394 CHIP WAGONER, Republican National Committeeman, State of Alaska and Chair, Legislative Committee, Republican National Committee, informed the committee of his experience with elections in Alaska which ranges from voter registration to serving on Alaska's certification board. This is an exciting time to be a state government representative because of the innovative changes at the state level. Mr. Wagoner pointed out that this was predicted by author John Naisbett in his book entitled, Megatrends which was published over a decade ago. Mr. Wagoner discussed his interpretations of Mr. Naisbett's book. He noted that Mr. Naisbett says that there is a trend from an either/or society to a multiple option society. Mr. Naisbett also believes the death of the two party system is occurring slowly, but surely. Both of these trends are occurring in Alaska. In the last two presidential elections in Alaska, there have been at least seven candidates on the ballot. Alaska has five recognized parties in the state now who have access to both the primary and general election ballots. Mr. Wagoner noted that this does not include those candidates who get on the general election ballot by petition. Presently, Alaska elects candidates by a plurality. Plurality made sense when the constitution was written and there was a two-party system. In recent years, it has been found that many of Alaska's elections have been won or lost due to the minority vote. Mr. Wagoner stated that in eight of the last 10 gubernatorial elections in Alaska, it was a minority of voters who actually chose the winner. MR. WAGONER stated that the Division of Elections has prepared a list of 15 statewide elections in which a different result could have occurred had there been instant run-off voting or preferential voting as opposed to plurality voting. This legislation, HB 141, ensures that the candidate on the ballot that is most representative of the voters is the winner, which is democracy. Preferential voting accomplishes the same thing as if the state conducted a series of run-off elections, but without the tremendous cost of a run-off election or the dramatic loss of voter interest in a run-off election. Mr. Wagoner understood that a regular run-off election would cost over $800,000. Further, preferential voting is politically neutral. Mr. Wagoner explained that preferential voting ensures that the majority will of the electorate prevails, which is representative democracy. He emphasized that this gives voters the greatest opportunity for self-expression. Therefore, he believed there would be more voter interest and turn out in elections. He said, "Given this, it should come as no surprise that voters who have used this system in other jurisdictions, like it. In fact, not only do they like voting for their for first choice, but they actually take great pleasure in voting for who they want to be their last choice." Number 489 MR. WAGONER informed the committee that he had represented the Arizona Secretary of State and therefore, has some familiarity with ballot issues and election law. There are some public policy considerations for the legislature to consider with HB 141. Mr. Wagoner stated that there should be a system in which voters have confidence that their vote is meaningful, which preferential voting would accomplish. The current plurality voting system does not always provide that confidence because there are wasted votes. Elections should also be representative, to truly reflect the will of the majority of the voters in Alaska which the preferential voting would accomplish, while the current plurality voting system has not. There is also the desire to have fair elections in which no votes are wasted ... and good campaigning which preferential voting would accomplish, while the current plurality voting system has not. There is also the need to have accurate results which preferential voting has been shown to be accurate in other districts. Finally, there is the need to have official election results as quickly as possible. Mr. Wagoner acknowledged that the preferential system may take longer to learn the official results, but it must be remembered that the Division of Elections would have to process more information than in the past. The information the Division of Elections currently processes would be available at the same time as it is now. The division is being asked to provide more information in order to provide a more representative government. Mr. Wagoner stated that in most cases, the winner will be known on election night because it will be known to which candidate most of the transferred ballots will go. He indicated that prior elections could be reviewed to determine the outcome of those elections if the preferential voting system was utilized. Therefore, by election night the public will have a fairly good idea of who the winner is in most elections. Mr. Wagoner pointed out that this is only the case when the majority is not received by a candidate the first time. In most of Alaska's elections, a candidate receives a majority in the initial election. This seems to be a problem mainly in the statewide races. In closing, Mr. Wagoner believed it would be great if Alaskan legislators could lead the nation to a more representative and fair voting system. Mr. Wagoner urged the committee to support HB 141. Number 556 REPRESENTATIVE SMALLEY inquired as to how 15 elections could have had different results with the preferential voting system when there was no system in place to reflect second and third choices. MR. WAGONER explained that he had requested the Division of Elections to determine which elections could have been different had the preferential voting system been in place. The division reviewed all of the statewide elections and those elections in which a minority vote elected the winner. In such cases, there could have been a different result had the preferential voting system been in place. REPRESENTATIVE SMALLEY referred to Mr. Wagoner's comments regarding a wasted vote. Although Representative Smalley acknowledged that he had voted for candidates who did not win, he did not consider that to be a wasted vote. Representative Smalley did not view preferential voting as a fairer system, but rather a different view. CHAIR JAMES indicated agreement with Representative Smalley's comments on the issue of a wasted vote. However, Chair James pointed out that a great number of those who do not vote do so because these people believe their vote does not make a difference. Number 595 REPRESENTATIVE SMALLEY commented that there are those who do not vote due to the confusion that occurs, for instance, when precincts are changed. Perhaps, the frustration would occur with a new voting process and result in even less voter turn out. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL inquired as to how pre-election polling may affect the run-off type election. Often the media reporting of polling seems to have a tremendous affect on spoiler votes or a wasted vote. Is there a study that would illustrate that polling reporting is different? MR. WAGONER said that he did not know of any polling to which Representative Coghill referred. He was aware that in 1994 there was a poll that reported that a candidate was moving up in the polls which he believed caused a transfer of quite a few votes, particularly in the Fairbanks area. The 1994 election was won by less than 600 votes. Mr. Wagoner stated that polling released prior to an election can affect this. With regards to his earlier comments about a wasted vote, Mr. Wagoner explained that under instant run-off every vote eventually goes toward determining the winner. However, in the plurality system that is not necessarily the case. He emphasized that the key to preferential voting is that voters can rank their preferences and therefore, the vote is not going to hurt what the voter believes in. Mr. Wagoner indicated that most of the smaller parties nationally, as well as in Alaska, like preferential voting. The smaller party can seek votes to argue the position before the voters without the possibility of worsening their position or cause by undercutting another candidate with similar views. Number 647 REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL clarified that he was trying to address the education process. He said that he was attempting to envision receiving a call regarding his first three choices and how that would be reported as a polling fact. Further, he wondered what the effect of that information would be on the dynamic of election campaigning. MR. WAGONER indicated the possibility that those doing polling would ask that question. Such information will affect elections. He posed the following situation. If he and Representative Smalley were running, he would want to know where his second choices would come from. If the second choices would be from Representative Smalley's base of support, then Mr. Wagoner did not believe he would attack Representative Smalley as strenuously. This would be a benefit with preferential voting because Mr. Wagoner did not believe there would be as many cheap shots. REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA indicated that Mr. Wagoner was describing a situation in which things would be driven to the middle. MR. WAGONER agreed that would likely happen because what is being attempted to elect the candidate that the most closely fits what the voters want regardless of their political affiliation. The purpose of preferential voting is to elect the candidates most representative of what the voters want. Mr. Wagoner noted that voter preference changes and discussed Alaska's history. The preferential voting system is politically neutral. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN discussed how he would have voted differently in the 1994 election if the preferential voting system had been in place. Representative Ogan said that preferential voting would have given him the ability to vote for who he philosophically believed in knowing that there was a backup. Number 707 MARK CHRYSON, Chairman, Alaskan Independence Party, testified via teleconference from the Mat-Su Valley. He pointed out that two of the three major parties are here speaking in favor of HB 141. Alaska is a unique situation because there are six active political parties, only five of which are officially state sanctioned parties. There are minor parties that show up for election. Mr. Chryson stated that HB 141 would allow for the growth of more parties which would enable more people to become involved with the political scene. He commented that writing the numerics on the ballot is a draw back. He believed that Mr. Hill's suggestion regarding the use of the grid with the dots for the ACCU-Vote would be a more feasible option. If HB 141 passes, Mr. Chryson believed there would be larger voter turn outs. Until the federal government allows Alaska's Division of Elections to purge its voter registration rolls, we will have no idea what the actual voter turn outs are. In many districts, there are more registered voters than the population of the district. Mr. Chryson noted that he had served on the election board. He believed that voter fraud does occur. Mr. Chryson informed the committee that, from first hand experience, if an election judge questions a ballot, he/she will never be asked to be an election judge again. This has happened to a number of folks including himself. Ballots have been questioned of persons claiming to be citizens, although these people were not born in the U.S. nor could they speak English. He pointed out that a requirement of the citizenship test is that the test be taken in English. He believed that HB 141 would be in the best interest of Alaska and would bring more involvement from the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth parties. With regard to local elections, Mr. Chryson indicated that in the Mat-Su Valley there are often seven or eight candidates for one political office. Number 759 LARRY ENGSMINGER, Vice President, Operations, Global Election System, testified via teleconference from Texas. He stated that Global Election System is the vendor of the voting system that Alaska currently utilizes. CHAIR JAMES noted that there have been questions regarding the ACCU-Vote system and the fact that the ACCU-Vote system in Cambridge has different software. She requested that Mr. Engsminger discuss what would be required if Alaska went to a multiple choice system. She also asked Mr. Engsminger to discuss how the current machines could be used with the change in software. MR. ENGSMINGER explained that the application software that Alaska utilizes is the Gems software which operates on a NT-based platform. The system in Cambridge, Massachusetts is on an older platform ( the Vote Tally System) which has been discontinued. The new software is gradually replacing the old software in, or all Global's jurisdictions throughout the U.S. and Canada. Mr. Engsminger said Alaska's software does not accommodate preferential voting in the manner that has been described. However, Global can accommodate preferential voting. CHAIR JAMES inquired as to what would be involved in order to adjust the system; would it merely be software changes? MR. ENGSMINGER replied yes, but it would be fairly far-reaching because the ballot layout portion of the software would need to be adjusted to accommodate this voting. In further response to Chair James, Mr. Engsminger estimated that such changes would be a custom software project that would require seven to eight man-months of work costing approximately $175,000. Number 803 CHAIR JAMES said that there seemed to be a trend and others are interested in this type of balloting. She wondered if it would be a good financial decision for Global to adapt to this type of voting. MR. ENGSMINGER said that had been discussed internally. He stated that, "Our issues are that we have to deal with all those types of versions or try to see where the industry is going to standardize on some type of preferential voting." CHAIR JAMES stated that although she has always been interested in change, "change just for change sake is not necessarily the way to go." Change should occur if there is a good reason to do so. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN noted that the system utilizes an optical scanner machine. Suppose there are four gubernatorial candidates; couldn't there be boxes designated for the first, second, third, and fourth choices. Then the votes of the first, second, and third choices would be tallied. Therefore, Representative Ogan indicated that it would be fairly easy to enter those votes or program the machine to automatically do so, if there was a run-off in order to transfer votes to the appropriate person. MR. ENGSMINGER asked if Representative Ogan meant that the designated box would be filled in with a number, character, or shading. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN clarified that he meant shading in the box. Representative Ogan agreed with Mr. Engsminger that behind each candidate name there would be four boxes. Representative Ogan believed that it would be fairly easy for the machine to tally those votes. Number 854 MR. ENGSMINGER said that it would require a fairly extensive programming effort. Global's work research and development team has reviewed this. The amount of effort is extensive due to the ramifications throughout the entire application. The program in Cambridge, Massachusetts took the better part of a year to accomplish. CHAIR JAMES inquired as to whether the platform being utilized for Alaska's system would have to be changed. TAPE 99-19, SIDE A Number 001 MR. ENGSMINGER continued, "... phasing that out. The other side, if you're heading toward a question like this; could we put the VTS system in Alaska? The down-side of that, is that we made extensive changes in our program on the Gems-side, for Alaska, to accommodate certain other counting conventions that you all use there that we don't experience in other places. So, we would have to go back to the VTS side and redo all of that as well, so it really doesn't, in my opinion, doesn't make sense to do that given the fact that down the road, two to three years from now, we will have everybody phased out of the VTS system, so that we're only supporting one application software piece." REPRESENTATIVE SMALLEY referred to Mr. Engsminger's comments that it may take seven to eight months and approximately $135,000 dollars to create the software. He asked whether that was the total cost or the cost of bringing forward the preferential system. Number 040 MR. ENGSMINGER clarified that the cost would be 175,000 dollars and that would be for changing the application software. He said that he wasn't sure what that would do to the ballot layout. For example, if there is a lengthy ballot, meaning a fair number of candidates, for each candidate there would have to be a designated column of voting targets to accommodate this type of voting. Depending on how large the election is, there could end up being multiple ballot cards for each voter. Mr. Engsminger indicated that this hasn't really been looked at because it is dependent on the election environment, although, in some states the voter has ended up with more than one ballot. This would add to the ongoing operational costs, but it is still dependent on the election environment. REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA wondered how well computers are able to read hand written numbers. MR. ENGSMINGER replied that the type of technology that reads hand written numbers, optical character recognition, was pioneered by the post office for reading zip codes. He said this type of technology is different from what is presently used and it would require a substantive change. Number 125 JIM SYKES testified via teleconference from Denver, Colorado. He said: Thank you for bringing this bill forward and for hearing it. I've run for governor twice, as many of you know, and I wish that we had the preferential ballot in place during that time. I first want to say that (indisc.) people asking me choices, well I'd like to vote for you, but, you know, I feel like I need to vote for somebody else just because I'm afraid somebody else might run. ... I think that's a totally bogus way to approach democracy. I think we should encourage people to vote for whom they believe. We should encourage candidates to speak the ideas that they believe in most strongly. So that we actually do have the best choice of who is going to lead us, who is going to govern us, who is going to help us get through our most serious problems. I would like to address a couple of things since we've covered a lot of ground. You don't need to feel locked into the ACCU-Voting system. ... I took computer programing back in the late 60's and early 70's and you could have easily have operated this with a punch card with the technology that we had 30 years ago. It's not rocket science. You can also print paper ballots. You will find that a lot of places who do have preferential ballots in Australia and New Zealand, still have paper ballots, and they hand count these ballots and they total them up nearly as fast as we can total up a ballot where we don't have more than on choice. The other thing that you may wish to consider is, ... you could also have the potential to take advisory votes on several options. For example, a non-controversial issue like subsistence, you take that, put it on four or five choices and ask people to mark what they thought was closest to what they believe and then really get a pretty good idea of where you might want to go to solve that problem. So, I do support the bill. I don't have the committee substitute in front of me. I do have some serious questions about the sticker portion of it for write-in candidates. I don't know how that part of it goes, but as far as ranking a preferential ballot, as far as people wanting to vote, I think it is -- somebody asked if it's more fair, yes, I do think it is more fair, because the voter has the power to decide where their vote goes. If they choose to only vote for one candidate and no other candidate, and that candidate is thrown out, it's no more of a loss than a candidate that you vote for that doesn't prevail in the present election. However, if you choose (indisc.) to make more choices, then your ballot will go as far, if you want to make choices. I think that that's where we want to be, is giving voters more power, so I'll support the bill. If you have any questions, I've studied a lot of systems across the world and I think this is a basically fair one, and I urge you to support it. I think, as somebody stated earlier, if neutral, it doesn't help anybody [and] it doesn't hurt anybody, and it's a good system for making our democracy better. Number 201 CHAIR JAMES referred to Mr. Sykes comment on a minority candidate. She said, if people could have had their first choice, knowing that chances of you winning on the first vote would not be good, but the second vote would count, what do you think the effect would have been on the votes you received. MR. SYKES indicated that he probably would have received a lot more first-place ballots, and if he did not win, people would have at least had the chance to express their true desire. Furthermore, the public would see that he had received a certain percentage of the votes on the first ballot ... maybe the public would consider, to a greater extent, what he had been saying. CHAIR JAMES said that was her point. She indicated that she is not necessarily in favor or opposed to the minority parties, however, they feel they are not being treated the same as other parties. Number 243 REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA asked if Mr. Sykes would be in favor of people voting across party lines. She noted that HB 141 won't allow for that. MR. SYKES replied yes, people should be allowed to vote for any candidate in the primary or the general election. In fact, the primary election could be eliminated all together and rolled into the general election. MR. WAGONER stated that it is his understanding that the intent of HB 141 is not to change Alaska's blanket primary system which has been upheld by the state supreme court. Presently a voter can only vote for one person. He said, if a person decides to vote for the Democratic for governor in the primary, he or she cannot also vote for the Republican candidate for governor. The primary election is a series of elections for each recognized party (because only recognized parties are on a primary). The preferential voting system would not change that, you could still cross party lines and vote for a Democrat for governor, a Republican for Senator, and a Green party for Representative. But the difference is, in the primary election, once you decide which column you want to vote for, for that office, then you would get to rank. Mr. Wagoner stated, "And for the exact same reason you get to rank in the general election, and this you want your vote to count and you want the most representative candidate of that party to be the nominee of that party. So if you had three or four people running as a Republican and you decided you wanted to vote for that Republican candidate, you could, and you would rank them in that column. To allow a voter to rank all of them would allow them to essentially vote more times than they are allowed to currently vote." CHAIR JAMES commented that the committee needs to look closely at HB 141, word by word, and determine what it does means. She said, "The intent is not to change the voting. And if that's the case, then we can go from there." Number 316 SCOTT KOHLHAAS, Membership Chairman, Executive Committee of the Alaska Libertarian Party, testified via teleconference from Anchorage. He stated: I'm here to speak in favor of HB 141 today. And even though I'm not totally sure when I hear things like HB 141 eliminates the possibility of having a minority candidate win an election, I don't think we should eliminate possibilities. I worry about the 3 percent threshold for governor that it takes to stay on a party. Will that be determined by the first vote count or the last vote count? And I want to say that I'm not here to make a partisan pitch. I really believed, before I came in here, that HB 141 would benefit everyone, and then I heard Gail's testimony. ... But I'm troubled by her testimony. She may be frightened and scared, and they may have to stay up late, and they may be confused. ... Some of the comments that the chair made, made me feel a lot better, because she understood the state of mind of the average eligible voter. We know from the numbers that most people don't vote anymore; they are disillusioned; they don't believe they can make a difference - it's true, and so they don't vote. And of the people who are left, they're on this crusade to stop evil, to save the country. I can't tell you how many thousands of times I've heard, "Gee we'd love to vote for you, but I've gotta vote for this guy to keep this greater evil out." And the point is, is that there's this angst: Greens who want to vote for the Democrats, but they can't, Republicans who want to vote for the Libertarians, but they can't, and again, most people don't vote. So, we've got a pressure cooker, folks. It might make it a little tougher on the Division of Elections, just like motor voter [National Voter Registration Act of 1993] did; I've heard complaints about motor voter. But, the point is that we're trying to pull in more people and relieve this pressure cooker. Now, we have a real need, because of that pressure, for a system that gives us release. We have the technology, so we should take the chance we have to be the first in the nation. And so I ask you, let people vote their hopes, not just their fears. Vote for HB 141. Number 370 REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA told Mr. Kohlhaas that Ms. Fenumiai, who she has known for some time, is not scared. That part of his testimony sounded condescending, even though it may not have been meant that way. [HB 141 was held in committee].