Ballot Measure 1, which seeks to change the method by which initiatives and referendums are placed on the ballot, has a simple yet substantial argument that warrants its passage by voters.
That argument is this: Alaska's population has grown and settled primarily in one region, Southcentral Alaska, and the area carries too much weight.
Existing law governing how initiatives and referendums reach the ballot was laid out in the Alaska Constitution at its founding in 1956, when, as Measure 1's proponents argue in the official election pamphlet, the state's population was distributed fairly equitably among Anchorage, the central Interior and Southeast. Ballot measures had a reasonable chance of being proposed with regional balance.
The law as it has read for decades states that petitions must be signed by qualified voters equal in number to 10 percent of those who voted in the most recent general election and must come from at least 27 of the state's 40 House districts. Having the signature of just one qualified voter in a House district satisfies the requirement of district participation. The bulk of the signatures, therefore, can come from just a handful of districts.
With the population shift to Southcentral, ballot measures can come forward with little true representation from much of the state. One region can dominate others.
Down the ballot a bit is a good example of why the system needs to be updated through the constitutional amendment that is Measure 1.
Measure 3, the proposed ban on bear baiting, was placed on the ballot after its supporters met the requirement of gathering the signatures of at least 23,285 qualified voters and that those voters represent at least 27 of the 40 House districts.
But just under 19,000 of those signatures came from Anchorage, Eagle River and Mat-Su Borough districts. The total reached about 20,400 signatures when the Kenai Peninsula was added. Just as importantly, those signatures came from 23 House districts, four short of the required 27. Proponents of the bear-baiting ban didn't have much work to do to gather the remaining signatures.
It's a clear example of why the requirement needs to be stiffened. Measure 1 accomplishes the goal by increasing the district requirement to 30 from 27 and by requiring that the number of signatures from each district equal at least 7 percent of the number of people from that district who voted in the last general election. The requirement of a statewide 10 percent total remains unchanged.
Forget for a minute the fact that Outside groups find Southcentral Alaska an easy signature-gathering mark for their causes and consider that Measure 1 improves equity among Alaska's regions when it comes to citizen efforts at making and undoing laws. The issue here really is one of fairness.
Alaska has grown up since the mid-1900s. It's time for the initiative and referendum process to grow up, too.
Vote yes on Measure 1.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
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