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Fluid populace distorts voter numbers

Posted: Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Each year, the goings and comings of Alaska residents creates an ongoing flux on the amount of the state's registered voters. While becoming a registered voter has been simplified over the years, scrubbing voters from the list as they leave the state isn't always that simple if outgoing voters don't take the initiative.

"Voter registration is based on the act of a voter registering," said Pam Crowe, Region I supervisor of the Alaska Division of Elections, which includes the Kenai Peninsula.

That can only be removed by a voter death, a voter actively requesting to be removed, a criminal conviction, mental incapacity or a change of address.

Exactly what the difference is in the count of true eligible voters and those listed, Crowe did not know. However, she said much of the confusion comes when registered voters leave the state but don't remove their names from the voting roster.

"When people move, they change their subscriptions," she said. "But they don't always take care of their voter registration."

Under the designs of the National Voting Registration Act of 1993, when someone changes residency and moves to Alaska, the state sends notice to the person's previous state requesting that the applicant's name be stricken from the Outside state's voting record. The opposite is supposed to work for voters leaving Alaska, but Crowe said it seldom does.

"We notify every single state," she said. "But states don't always notify us. States don't have the manpower."

Crowe said her office will undergo changes in the next year, in conjunction with the Federal Election Commission's Help America Vote Act, to improve interstate communications.

Crowe said state election officials do annual list maintenance to identify voters who may have relocated elsewhere with no intention of returning. Often, people leave with the intent of returning, she said, and referred to state Statute 15.05.020, which says a person does not lose residency if they move to another country, state or place for temporary purposes.

"Alaska is a transient-type state where we have a lot of snowbirds," Crowe said. "People who come and don't want to give up their residency have that right."

Each year, Crowe's office attempts to contact every voter who meets several criteria, including anyone who hasn't voted in the last two general elections, anyone with an undeliverable address and anyone who has not contacted the election office for two years prior to the date of the ongoing list maintenance.

"We send out a card every year to folks who meet the criteria (above)," Crowe said, adding there is a 45-day waiting period for a response. "If the card is returned undeliverable, the card is flagged for a second delivery.

"If the voter chooses not to return the card, or if the post office doesn't return the card as undeliverable, the voter stays on list."

A second card is sent to Outside forwarding addresses received from the post office, and after another 45-day wait, the corresponding names are removed from the voting roll.

"They remain in inactive status," Crowe said. "They're not able to vote.

"We do get in each district an average of 500 to 1,000 voters we take off each year."

In fact, this year's list management process reflected a purge of 12,026 names from the voting roll. That was down from 2002, when the number was 19,557, and 2001, when the total was 33,163.

She said those inactive numbers don't count toward the overall voter tally, and voters labeled "inactive" have four years to call and reregister before being removed completely from the roll.

"Getting back on is easy, if that's your choice," Crowe said. "Alaska has a unique situation with the (Alaska Permanent Fund dividend), because people want to stay registered to get that check."

Voters can reapply by contacting their respective borough clerk's office, contacting the Division of Elections or showing up at the polls and voting a questioned ballot, which will then be tracked back to state officials.

And for those moving out of state permanently?

"Simply write a note to say, 'I'm leaving. Please remove my voter registration,'" Crowe said.

That information can be faxed or mailed to a city or borough clerk's office. Information also can be mailed to the Division of Elections at Region I Elections, P.O. Box 110018, Juneau, AK 99811, or faxed to Crowe's attention at (907) 465-2289.



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