By Ted Land
Channel 2 News
6:41 PM AKST, January 25, 2011
State lawmakers are starting the process of looking into election law changes that more than one judge said are necessary in the wake of the disputed Miller-Murkowski race.
The Senate held its first hearing on the matter this morning in Juneau.
Senators who've signed onto a plan to clarify Alaska election law say the past few months were a wake-up call.
“All of us went through that debacle of that election and I felt strongly that there had to be some changes made,” said Sen. Linda Menard (R-Wasilla).
The dispute started over voter intent and whether the Division of Elections director should count misspelled or abbreviated write-in ballots for Lisa Murkowski.
In the end, the courts said the state should and Senate Bill 31 writes their opinion into state law.
“We're going to want this common sense approach to be consistent from director to director,” said Sen. Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage).
“I have two thoughts on why we should pass this bill. One is because judges have strongly urged us to pass this bill, because of the way the statute is written. It's not very well written, but secondly is the tremendous cost that this has cost the state,” said Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage).
But some lawmakers have reservations.
Sen. Joe Paskvan (D-Fairbanks) says the Division of Elections should be allowed some flexibility to use their own common sense.
“My concern is that by trying to precisely define something, we create more litigation down the road,” said Paskvan.
The Department of Law says it does not take sides on this kind of legislation, but they didn't seem to object to the potential changes.
The state affairs committee held the bill, meaning they'll hear it again, but most Republicans and Democrats agree that voter intent is paramount.
Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell is getting ready to do his own review of how the state handled the election.
Treadwell hopes to complete the assessment within 45 days and says by then it should be clear whether legislation is needed.
The review will look at issues including voter intent and whether there should be a continued requirement that write-in candidates register to make it official. He also says the review should ensure the state has safeguards in place so felons are not wrongfully voting.
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