canada africa partner reservation The Alaska Senate Committee is proposing same-day voter registration, but key Republicans oppose the idea

The Alaska Senate Committee is proposing same-day voter registration, but key Republicans oppose the idea

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By means of James Brooks, Alaska Beacon

Updated: 31 minutes ago Published: 31 minutes ago

A Senate committee voted Thursday in favor of a bill that would allow same-day voter registration in the state, despite the objections of the bill’s original author, who opposes the idea.

House Bill 129 was originally authored by Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, to allow the state to more quickly shorten its voter rolls. The state has 108% of its population age 20 and older registered to vote, and lawmakers in the House of Representatives supported the bill on a bipartisan vote in February.

On Thursday, the Senate State Affairs Committee converted the bill into a comprehensive election overhaul with a key amendment that incorporates elements of other bills:

• Voters would be able to register for elections within thirty days of Election Day, something currently only allowed for presidential elections.

• The Department of Elections should create a method for voters to correct errors on absentee ballots that have already been mailed.

• Absentee ballots no longer require the signature of someone who witnesses the voter filling out the ballot.

• Ballots completed by voters with special needs could not be rejected due to errors by polling places or the person returning the ballot to the polls.

• If someone uses AI computer software to imitate a candidate’s appearance in an election advertisement, the fake should include a legal disclaimer.

• A candidate could transfer leftover campaign donations to a legal fund for election-related lawsuits.

• The Department of Elections should develop a cybersecurity program and procedures for audits designed to reduce risk.

Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks and the state affairs committee chairman, had planned a separate, multi-part election bill, but that bill has not advanced in the Senate.

Vance said she would have preferred to see Kawasaki incorporate his ideas into his own bill rather than try to piggyback on hers.

After the new version was unveiled Thursday, Vance told the State Affairs Committee: “What I see here is same-day registration among a whole host of other measures that I do not support.”

Kawasaki responded that all of the elements added to the bill are items that have been considered at least once before by a legislative committee, the state House or Senate.

In 2022, a comprehensive election bill died on the last day of the legislative session, despite extensive negotiations between both parties.

Several items in this year’s bill are transfers from that bill, Kawasaki said. Others didn’t make the cut, he said, because he wanted to reduce the cost of the bill.

For example, he dropped a program to verify voters’ signatures on absentee ballots because it would require the state to buy new equipment and software.

Also missing is a plan to offer prepaid envelopes to absentee voters so they can send their ballot to the state without purchasing a stamp.

“I just want to say that this is still a work in progress,” Kawasaki said. “We still have about ten days; this bill will be referred to the (Senate) Finance Committee.”

Vance said the day after her initial comments that she still opposes the changes. HB 129 passed with bipartisan support, she said, and she does not believe the ideas added to the bill have bipartisan support.

Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, participated in the failed 2022 effort and several failed attempts to change election laws before that.

He said he opposes the changes and will urge the House to reject them if the Senate passes the revised bill.

If the House does approve the bill, he said, he plans to ask Gov. Mike Dunleavy to veto it.

Originally published by the Alaska Beaconan independent, nonpartisan news organization reporting on Alaska state government.