The Alaska Senate committee is proposing same-day voter registration, but key Republicans oppose the idea

From James Brooks, Alaska Beacon

Updated: 17 Seconds ago Published: 18 Seconds ago

A state Senate committee voted Thursday to advance a bill that would allow same-day voter registration in the state, despite objections from the bill's original author, who opposes the idea.

House Bill 129 was originally authored by Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, to allow the state to reduce its voter rolls more quickly. In the state, 108% of the population over 20 is eligible to vote, and House Democrats supported the bill in a bipartisan vote in February.

On Thursday, the Senate State Affairs Committee turned the bill into a comprehensive elections overhaul with one key change that incorporates elements of other bills:

• Voters would be able to register to vote within 30 days of Election Day, which is currently only allowed for presidential elections.

• The elections department would have to create a method for voters to fix errors on mail-in ballots that have already been mailed.

• Mail-in ballots would no longer require the signature of someone watching the voter fill out the ballot.

• Ballots filled out by voters with special needs could not be rejected due to errors by poll workers or the person delivering the ballot to the polls.

• If someone uses AI computer software to falsify a candidate's appearance in an election advertisement, the falsification must contain a legal disclaimer.

• A candidate would have the option to transfer leftover campaign contributions to a legal fund for election-related lawsuits.

• The elections department would be required to develop a cybersecurity program and audit procedures to reduce risks.

Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks and chairman of the State Affairs Committee, had planned a separate, multi-part election bill, but that bill did not advance in the Senate.

Vance said she would have preferred Kawasaki to incorporate his ideas into his own bill rather than try to co-opt hers.

After the new version was unveiled Thursday, Vance told the State Affairs Committee, “What I see before me is same-day registration in the midst of a whole host of other measures that I don't support.”

Kawasaki responded that all of the items added to the bill were things that had been considered at least once before by a legislative committee, the state House of Representatives or the state Senate.

In 2022, a comprehensive election bill failed on the last day of the legislative session despite extensive bipartisan negotiations.

Several of the items in this year's bill are holdovers from that bill, Kawasaki said. Others didn't make the cut, he said, because he wanted to reduce the cost of the bill.

For example, he dropped a program to verify voter signatures on mail-in ballots because it would require the state to buy new equipment and software.

Also missing is a plan to offer absentee voters postage-paid envelopes that would allow them to mail their ballots to the state without having to purchase a stamp.

“I just want to say this is a work in progress,” Kawasaki said. “We still have a dozen days; This bill will be referred to the Senate Finance Committee.”

The day after her initial comments, Vance said she still opposed the changes. HB 129 passed with bipartisan support, she said, and she doesn't believe the ideas added to the bill have bipartisan support.

Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, participated in the failed 2022 effort and several failed attempts to change election laws before that.

He said he opposed the changes and would urge the House to reject them if the Senate passes the revised bill.

If the House still passes it, he said, he plans to ask Gov. Mike Dunleavy to veto it.

Originally published by the Alaska Beaconan independent, nonpartisan news organization covering Alaska state government.

Anna Harden

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