Democrat tries to restore blanket primary

Posted: Friday, March 02, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A Democratic lawmaker's proposal would restore the blanket primary election invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court, but let parties that don't want to participate opt out in favor of conventions, caucuses or some other privately operated process.

The court ruled last year that states couldn't force political parties to allow members of other parties to vote in their primaries.

Because the Republican Party of Alaska already had rules calling for a primary excluding members of other parties, the state held a hybrid election last August, with Republicans appearing on one ballot open only to GOP, independent and nonpartisan voters, and a separate ballot with candidates from other parties that was open to all voters.

The patchwork system prompted widespread grumbling and confusion among Alaska voters used to choosing a Republican in one race and a Democrat in the next.

The bill Sen. Kim Elton introduced Thursday would restore the blanket primary that lists all candidates on the same ballot, with the top vote-getter in each party advancing to the general election.

But parties could opt out of the primary if they wanted.

''You can keep your own selection process,'' said Elton, D-Juneau. ''But you'll also have to pay for it.

Elton noted that the 2000 primary election, with 17 percent of registered voters showing up, had the lowest turnout on record and cost an additional $250,000 to administer.

Parties that opt not to participate in the full-choice ballot can pay for their own selection process, be it conventions, caucuses or other methods.

The state is under no obligation to help parties choose their candidates for the general election, Elton said.

Elton's proposal could be one of several ideas to fix the primary dilemma. Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer has convened a task force to recommend a new format for the primary. That panel meets next week.

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