Ulmer: Semi-closed Republican primary would cost $400,000

Posted: Friday, June 30, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Saying a Republican-only primary would cost the state $400,000, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer reluctantly agreed to order such an election, but called on GOP leaders Thursday to withdraw their demand for a separate ballot.

The Republican Party of Alaska made the request under Tuesday's Supreme Court ruling that California's blanket primary violates parties' rights to free association by forcing them to associate with people who don't share their beliefs.

Blanket primaries -- including Alaska's -- list all candidates on a single ballot and allow voters to choose freely. The top vote-getter in each party advances to the general election.

Under the temporary system Ulmer proposed, the Republican ballot at the Aug. 22 primary would be open only to GOP voters and people who were not registered in another political party. All other candidates would be listed on a separate ballot open to any voter.

''This change is not something I do willingly,'' Ulmer said, calling the change bad for Alaska's voters and bad for the democratic process.

The system cuts off several options for Alaska voters, most notably the freedom to vote for a Republican candidate in one race and a Democrat in another. For instance, a voter in Kodiak won't be able to vote in the contested Republican primary for the island's state House seat and the contested Democratic primary for state Senate. The other primaries in both races are uncontested.

It also prevents registered members of the Democratic, Green, Alaskan Independence, Libertarian and Republican Moderate parties from voting in Republican primaries. However, such voters could switch their registration to Republican, nonpartisan or undeclared at any time before they choose a ballot.

Ulmer, a Democrat, said emergency regulations for the primary had been prepared, but she was holding off on signing them until the close of business on Friday to give Republican leaders a chance to reconsider.

''I also wanted to give them an opportunity to save the state $400,000, because I know how important that is to Republicans,'' Ulmer said.

Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Republican Party of Alaska, shrugged off the price tag as a one-time expense.

''A lot of this is just due to the anarchy of the timing,'' said Ruedrich, adding that the party's rules call for the semi-closed system and cannot be changed until the next RPA convention in 2002.

In Washington, officials plan to go ahead with their blanket primary despite the Supreme Court's ruling because none of the state's parties object.

Alaska Republicans object to the blanket primary because they fear Democrats can influence the results of GOP primaries, either electing less conservative candidates or pushing a weaker Republican into the general election.

Ulmer and Division of Elections Director Janet Kowalski said the costs include printing, mailing, training election workers, and an advertising campaign to inform the public about the changes.

One leading Democrat called on the Republicans to pay the added cost.

''I don't know why we're using public funds for a private primary,'' said House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, ''especially one that confers special privileges on Republicans.''

This year's system will mirror the primaries in 1992 and 1994, when Republicans held semi-closed primaries under a deal worked out between the party and then-Lt. Gov. Jack Coghill after the GOP sued in federal court. The Alaska Supreme Court threw out that system before the 1996 election, saying it violated the law that requires the blanket primary.

Ulmer said she expected the Legislature to consider permanent changes to the election law next year.

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