ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) When Alaskans go to the polls on Tuesday, they will decide on a ballot measure that would instruct the Division of Elections to automatically register qualified Alaskans as voters when they apply for Permanent Fund Dividend checks.
Supporters say it’s a way to increase participation in elections, save Alaskans time, and modernize state government. Critics say it’s a waste of money at a time when the state is grappling with a multi-billion dollar budget gap, and that it’s a move fueled by Democrats.
Sponsors of the initiative submitted more than 42,000 signatures to the Division of Elections in January. The division certified them in March.
The Division of Elections estimates it will cost $942,885 to roll out the program, with recurring annual costs at about $300,000. Sponsors say they believe that cost projection is inflated and that automatic PFD-voter registration will save money over time because the division will have to deal with fewer questioned ballots, among other things.
Alaskans can already register to vote online, at Division of Elections offices, at Department of Motor Vehicle Offices, and many other places.
“It’s a solution in search of a problem,” said Rep. Dan Saddler (R-Eagle River.) “You have to ask yourself, ‘Who benefits?”
The biggest contributors are Washington D.C.-based New Venture Fund, a foundation that supports left-leaning causes, and National Education Association, the country’s largest union representing teachers, secretaries and educational support employees, Saddler noted.
“It’s being driven by Democratic operatives. Why should they get to spend Alaskans’ money to vote that way?” Saddler said.
Kim Reitmeier, one of the initiative’s main sponsors, said the effort is not aligned with any particular party and it is supported by organizations and individuals of diverse political persuasions. They include the League of Women Voters Alaska, Alaska Federation of Natives, the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. and AARP of Alaska.
“In the activities I have been involved with, the working committees, it has been completely nonpartisan conversations,” Reitmeier said. “We feel very confident that this is a really broad-based coalition.”
Reitmeier is executive director of ANCSA Regional Association, a group that promotes the interests of Alaska Native corporations and their shareholders.
If passed, supporters say it could add 70,000 Alaskans to voter rolls. Anyone who does not want their Permanent Fund application linked to voter registration can select an opt out feature.
Alaska’s U.S. senators have both issued statements saying they support the ballot measure as a way to encourage political participation, reduce voter fraud and cut costs.