Kenai Peninsula Borough voters are familiar with government election pamphlets that arrive in the mail a few weeks before municipal elections. Typically, the pamphlets contain information about the candidates from the candidates and short descriptions of ballot propositions written in the clerk’s office and approved by the assembly and explanations of what a yes or no vote would accomplish but little else.
Occasionally, those descriptions have come under fire as less than informative or biased. Whether that’s true is a subjective matter.
However, now a measure introduced by Kasilof assembly member Paul Fischer, Ordinance 2007-16, would open voter pamphlets to include pro and con statements penned by individuals or groups with vested interests in ballot propositions.
The ordinance is set for a public hearing June 19. In the meantime, the borough clerk’s office and borough attorney are researching several questions concerning how the ordinance would work.
Among these are: How would it be determined who is eligible to write the published opinions? If competing pro or con statements are submitted, which is selected for inclusion? Could there be multiple position statements on each side? What makes a potential writer eligible? How do other government entities make those decisions?
“Those are the same questions everyone is asking,” said borough Deputy Clerk Johni Blankenship. “Those things have not been discerned yet. They’re the things that have to be refined on a policy level or within the ordinance.”
Blankenship said borough Attorney Colette Thompson was researching how other governments make those decisions.
“We don’t want to recreate the wheel,” Blankenship said.
Thompson said there are several issues yet to be resolved.
While it may be relatively easy to determine an advocate’s or opponent’s credentials with regard to some initiatives, it might be harder to decide whose statement should be eligible when the issue is a municipal bond.
Thompson said she can foresee expenses escalating if the pamphlet is opened to more than one pro and con statement, should competing statements be submitted.
Voter pamphlets published by the state for statewide elections do include pro and con advocacy statements.
Hanna Stickle, with the Division of Elections, said the division does not get directly involved in recruiting authors, but instead is provided names by the lieutenant governor’s office typically of sponsors of citizen driven initiatives.
“Often the issue is not having too many signatories, it is finding one person to sign on” to a pro or con side, Stickle said.
Fischer said he’d been asked by several citizens to have the borough include pro and con statements in voter pamphlets. He said language in the proposed ordinance mirrors state administrative code.
The ordinance would permit the inclusion of such statements and gives the clerk authority to offer authorship to publicly recognized individuals or organization with a stated interest in the proposition, pro or con. The clerk would set deadlines for submission of statements, and statements would be limited to 500 words.
Hal Spence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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