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Deadline to make changes in voter registration here

Disgruntled Alaskans give elections workers earful about primary rules

Posted: Sunday, July 28, 2002

If you want to change party affiliation or anything else having to do with your voter registration in time for the Aug. 27 primary election, you only have hours left.

The deadline for making changes is 4 p.m. this afternoon.

Alaska's new six-ballot primary is a radical change from the "blanket primary" process most Alaska voters are familiar with. The state's new election law no longer permits voters to choose candidates in a primary across party lines as easily as they once did.

The voting changes are the result of a 2000 United States Supreme Court decision in California Democratic Party v. Jones in which the high court ruled a state may not require a political party to allow nonparty members to select party candidates in a primary election. The Alaska Legislature adopted the new state voting law to comply with that ruling.

Voters registered as affiliated with any particular party will only be able to fill out that party's ballot come Aug. 27. That is, those registered as Republicans will only get to vote on the Republican Party primary ballot, those registered as Democrats only the Democratic Party ballot, those as Greens only the Green Party of Alaska ballot and so on.

To be free to choose any particular ballot from among the six, voters must be registered as "nonpartisan," "undeclared" or "other." Even then, those voters will be able to select only one party's ballot.

Voters not already registered as nonpartisan, undeclared or other have until 4 p.m. today to notify the Alaska Division of Elections that they wish to change. Voters may also register with a particular party if they wish.

Here's how:

You may change your mailing address information and party affiliation by phone. Residents of the Kenai Peninsula Borough must call the division's Southeast Region Office in Juneau at 465-3021.

Changing one's actual residence information is handled a bit differently. That information requires a specific form and a signature. The form can be downloaded from the division's web site at www.elections.state.ak.us. The completed form can then be faxed to the division office at 465-2289.

As of June 26, there were 450,141 registered voters in Alaska. Some 161,030 were listed as undeclared, 66,296 are nonpartisan and 4,386 are tabbed as "other," according to date posted on the Division of Elections Web site.

Meanwhile, there were 113,380 Republicans, 71,625 Democrats, 18,554 registered with the Alaskan Independence Party, 4,764 with the Green Party of Alaska, 2,872 registered as Republican Moderates, and 7,234 as Libertarians.

Those numbers are now changing daily.

Elections division offices have been flooded with inquiries about the new process, and many Alaskans are changing affiliation in order to be able to select one ballot or another.

Division workers are getting an earful from disgruntled voters angered over not being able to choose from among all candidates regardless of party, and over the fact they must choose a party ballot in order to be able to cast votes on Ballot Measure 1, which ask voters if they want to institute a preferential voting process for future elections.

Unhappy voters have besieged elections workers, said Janet Kowalski, director of the Alaska Division of Elections.

"Phone traffic has been up all over the state," she said. "When people got their voter guides and cards in the mail recently, it generated a lot of questions. Why the change? Why can't I vote for any candidate?"

The workload associated with reapportionment along with handling the inquiries resulting from the "groundswell of public dissatisfaction" has division employees working uncompensated weekends and nights, Kowalski said.

Many voters are particularly angered over having to select a party ballot at all just to vote on the nonpartisan issue in Ballot Measure 1. No separate ballot was created just for the ballot measure. It simply wasn't contemplated that a ballot measure--- rare for a primary election in any case -- would present such a difficulty, Kowalski said.

"We've been calling it 'unintended consequences,'" she said. "We need to adjust how we treat those issues."

She said the division would propose changes in the way nonpartisan voters vote in primaries when a nonpartisan issue is on the ballot.

Pam Crowe, regional director of the Juneau regional office, said her office also is handling lots of calls.

"People want to change party," she said. "They are concerned about the primary elections and where their new precincts will be."

The precinct boundary changes around Ninilchik, in particular, have drawn a lot of calls, she said. Likewise some boundary shifts in the Kenai-Soldotna area.

Crowe said that if there was one message she wanted to get to voters it was that the Division of Elections is not responsible for the change in the law. Any dissatisfaction should be expressed to state lawmakers, she said.

The Anchorage regional office has fielded its share of questions and handled its share of affiliation changes, too, according to Carol Thompson, Anchorage regional director. "We've had numerous people changing addresses and party registration. More than usual. The voter cards really made a lot of people aware," Thompson said.

Division workers try to avoid getting into political discussions with callers, she said.

"We tell them what caused it to happen -- that it was through the court process and the Legislature that put together the new law," she said. "We tell them it is our responsibility to follow the law."

Until they closed for the weekend Friday afternoon, municipal clerks' offices also handled registration and affiliation changes for the division.

Mary Calhoun, Homer city clerk, said some 60 people had come in by mid-day Friday either to change their addresses or their party affiliations. Many weren't happy and voiced "major disgust" over the changes.

"The biggest comment is that they say, 'I want to choose my ballot,'" Calhoun said. "They are changing to nonpartisan, other or undeclared. Yeah, it's a big deal."

In Homer, however, some of the anger has been misplaced, she said. The city recently annexed 4.5 square miles of surrounding territory after a bitter and divisive two-year effort.

"Many who have come in, maybe half, have blamed the annexation rather than reapportionment," she said.

Sharon Harris, a Kenai clerk's office assistant, said they've seen about five people a day coming in to change affiliation or update other information.

"They are not saying why," Harris said. "There have been some grumbles about being forced to choose, but not a lot of complaints."

Trina Sanford, an administrative clerk for the city of Soldotna, said only eight people had shown up to make registration changes. The only thing people have asked, she said, is which affiliation would allow them to choose any ballot.

"I was surprised only that many have come in," she said.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk's office had a steady flow of people in last week, mostly wanting to change their affiliation to nonpartisan or undeclared, said administrative assistant Sue Ellen Essert.

"Maybe 20 or 30," she said. "There has been no one that has been happy. They are not pleased about the primary," she said.

None of the municipal clerks' offices are open today.



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