Legislature(2017 - 2018)GRUENBERG 120

05/02/2017 03:00 PM House STATE AFFAIRS

Note: the audio and video recordings are distinct records and are obtained from different sources. As such there may be key differences between the two. The audio recordings are captured by our records offices as the official record of the meeting and will have more accurate timestamps. Use the icons to switch between them.

Download Mp3. <- Right click and save file as

Audio Topic
03:09:17 PM Start
03:10:05 PM HB200
03:50:33 PM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Heard & Held
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
           HB 200-NONPARTISAN OPEN PRIMARY ELECTIONS                                                                        
3:10:05 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS  announced that  the only order  of business                                                               
would  be HOUSE  BILL NO.  200, "An  Act establishing  a top  two                                                               
nonpartisan  open  primary  election system  for  elective  state                                                               
executive and  state and national legislative  offices; repealing                                                               
the  special runoff  election  for the  office  of United  States                                                               
senator  or United  States  representative; changing  appointment                                                               
procedures relating to precinct  watchers and members of precinct                                                               
election  boards,  election   district  absentee  and  questioned                                                               
ballot   counting  boards,   and   the   Alaska  Public   Offices                                                               
Commission;  requiring  certain  written  notices  to  appear  in                                                               
election pamphlets  and polling places; relating  to declarations                                                               
of candidacy and  letters of intent; and  amending the definition                                                               
of 'political party.'"                                                                                                          
3:10:20 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  LEDOUX, prime  sponsor of  HB 200,  explained the                                                               
that the "top  two" nonpartisan primary system  proposed under HB
200  would take  the  State  of Alaska  out  of  the business  of                                                               
running  primaries   for  private   [political]  parties.     She                                                               
maintained  that it  would  eliminate the  role  of primaries  in                                                               
nominating candidates  for parties  and instead narrow  the field                                                               
of candidates to  the top two vote getters.   She relayed that HB
200  was introduced  because of  consistent  complaints from  her                                                               
constituents regarding  the semi-closed  primary system  in place                                                               
in Alaska.                                                                                                                      
REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX  maintained that Alaska benefitted  from an                                                               
open  primary system  from  1946  to 2000.    In  2000, the  U.S.                                                               
Supreme Court ruled in California  Democratic Party v. Jones that                                                             
private [political]  parties could  not be  forced to  open their                                                               
primaries to  members of  other parties.   She asserted  that the                                                               
top two  primary is constitutional;  according to a  U.S. Supreme                                                               
Court  Ruling  in Washington  State  Grange  v. Washington  State                                                             
Republican Party  [2008], this  is not a  primary that  serves to                                                             
nominate  candidates from  either party  but simply  serves as  a                                                               
winnowing process.  She maintained  that the proposed legislation                                                               
would bring "the will of the  people" back to a more open primary                                                               
3:13:22 PM                                                                                                                    
JASON OLSON, Director, National Outreach, Open Primaries,                                                                       
paraphrased from his written testimony, which read as follows                                                                   
[original punctuation provided]:                                                                                                
     I am testifying  in favor of HB 200 and  the efforts to                                                                    
     bring back an open primary to Alaska.                                                                                      
     First  let  me  thank  Representative  LeDoux  for  the                                                                    
     invitation to testify, and  thank the committee members                                                                    
     for their time and attention to this important matter.                                                                     
     I  am  the Director  of  National  Organizing for  Open                                                                    
     Primaries,    a    nonprofit,   nonpartisan    national                                                                    
     organization with  a singular  mission, to  ensure that                                                                    
     no  American citizen  be required  to join  a political                                                                    
     party in order to vote  in a primary. Open Primaries is                                                                    
     working in  red state,  blue states, purple  states and                                                                    
     we work  with Republicans, Democrats,  and independents                                                                    
     on this issue.                                                                                                             
     My background is that I  founded a group of independent                                                                    
     voters in California that  partnered with the coalition                                                                    
     led    by    Republican    former    Governor    Arnold                                                                    
     Schwarzenegger  to  bring a  top  two  open primary  to                                                                    
     California,  as   well  as  reform   the  redistricting                                                                    
     process. Since then I have  worked on the issue of open                                                                    
     primaries in states around the country.                                                                                    
     So  why is  restoring Alaska's  open primary  worth the                                                                    
     support of the Alaska  State Legislature? In short, the                                                                    
     voters of  Alaska, along with  those in  California and                                                                    
     Washington State,  had their  open primary stolen  by a                                                                    
     terrible  court  decision in  the  year  2000. In  that                                                                    
     case, the  California Democratic  Party sued  the state                                                                    
     of California - which  had copied Alaska's open primary                                                                    
     in 1996 - in order to close the primary elections.                                                                         
     In  one  of the  worst  supreme  court decisions  in  a                                                                    
     generation,   the  court   sided  with   the  political                                                                    
     establishment  of  both  parties against  our  citizens                                                                    
     basic    freedom   to    vote    for   their    elected                                                                    
     representatives.  This, despite  the fact  that primary                                                                    
     elections are  in fact are  [sic] taxpayer  funded, run                                                                    
     by government employees, and  conducted on public owned                                                                    
     voting machines.                                                                                                           
     Alaska, California,  and Washington  state -  all which                                                                    
     had  the same  open  primary system  -  were forced  to                                                                    
     return  to a  semi-closed primary  that voters  in each                                                                    
     state had  previously rejected. This  put all  of these                                                                    
     states in  a very  difficult position. Voters  in those                                                                    
     other states fought back and  passed new open primaries                                                                    
     through  ballot initiative.  For this,  they looked  to                                                                    
     Nebraska,  which  has used  the  top  two open  primary                                                                    
     since 1934.                                                                                                                
     Under a  top two open  primary voters are free  to vote                                                                    
     for  who they  want. Legislators  are free  to do  what                                                                    
     they  think is  right  for  their constituents,  rather                                                                    
     than  have to  toe the  party  line. And  most of  them                                                                    
     absolutely love it.                                                                                                        
     The  impact  in  California has  been  tremendous.  The                                                                    
     legislature's approval rating  is up from a  low of 14%                                                                    
     before the change  to 45% today. Budgets  are passed on                                                                    
     time.  Voter participation  and registration  has begun                                                                    
     to rebound,  with a 48%  voter turnout  in California's                                                                    
     June   2016  primary   which  took   place  after   the                                                                    
     presidential primaries were virtually over.                                                                                
     In  short, HB  200 is  Alaska's chance  to finally  win                                                                    
     back its  open primary. We  urge you to support  it and                                                                    
     are happy to  advise and assist in its  passage any way                                                                    
     possible. Thank you.                                                                                                       
3:16:56 PM                                                                                                                    
ANDREW  SINCLAIR, PhD,  Clinical  Assistant  Professor, New  York                                                               
University Wagner Graduate School  of Public Service, paraphrased                                                               
from  his  written testimony,  which  read  as follows  [original                                                               
punctuation provided]:                                                                                                          
     I  am a  Clinical Assistant  Professor at  NYU's Wagner                                                                    
     Graduate  School  of  Public   Service.    My  teaching                                                                    
     responsibilities include  courses in public  policy and                                                                    
     quantitative  research methodology.  Beyond teaching  I                                                                    
     conduct   research   on    public   policy,   electoral                                                                    
     institutions,   political   behavior,  and   democratic                                                                    
     accountability  in the  United States  and in  Britain.                                                                    
     In addition to academic articles,  I am also the author                                                                    
     of  Nonpartisan  Primary  Election  Reform:  Mitigating                                                                    
     Mischief, a book published with  my coauthor R. Michael                                                                    
     Alvarez  through Cambridge  University  Press in  2015.                                                                    
     This book focuses on  the nonpartisan "top-two" primary                                                                    
     in  California, a  subject of  my continuing  scholarly                                                                    
     activities as  well.   I hold  a PhD  and MS  in Social                                                                    
     Science  from the  California  Institute of  Technology                                                                    
     and a  BA in Mathematics and  Government from Claremont                                                                    
     McKenna College.                                                                                                           
     (1). California has used  the nonpartisan election rule                                                                  
     in  2012,  2014, and  2016.    That  is enough  to  say                                                                  
     something   -   but   there   is   still   considerable                                                                  
     disagreement among  political scientists about  what to                                                                  
     look at and what to made of the new rules.                                                                               
     (2).  California's  version  of  the  top-two  is  very                                                                  
     simple: the two candidates  with the most votes advance                                                                  
     to  the  general  election.    Voters  can  choose  any                                                                  
     candidate in the primary.                                                                                                
     (3).  Roughly 15%  of the  time two  candidates of  the                                                                  
     same  party face  each other  in the  general election.                                                                  
     Most of the time, the  general elections look like what                                                                  
     you would see under the old system.                                                                                      
     (4). From my own research,  it appears that the general                                                                  
     elections  between candidates  of  the  same party  are                                                                  
     more  competitive  and happen  in  the  very places  we                                                                  
     typically see uncompetitive elections.                                                                                   
     (5).    For some  of  the  other considerations  people                                                                  
     think about  - participation, moderation as  examples -                                                                  
     it is a little less clear  how the top-two works or how                                                                  
     the CA  experience would translate  to Alaska.   I have                                                                  
     not   seen  compelling   evidence   that  the   top-two                                                                  
     disadvantages  minorities   or  other  underrepresented                                                                  
     groups; we  looked for  this in our  2015 book  but did                                                                  
     not find anything.                                                                                                       
     (6).  Most of  what the  top-two does  seems to  happen                                                                  
     through pairing  candidates in  a different  way rather                                                                  
     than  vastly  changing the  way  voters  behave in  the                                                                  
     primary.   In  my research,  generally we  found voters                                                                  
     picked  the candidate  that they  knew about  that they                                                                  
     also  liked  the  most  (rather  than  behave  in  some                                                                  
     complicated strategic way).                                                                                              
     (7). Some  voters like  the new  rules while  others do                                                                  
     not.    Many  echo  the uncertainty  of  the  political                                                                  
     scientists about what to expect from the top-two.                                                                        
     (8). Any reform  will come with some  advantages (as in                                                                  
     increased competition)  and disadvantages  (some voters                                                                  
     might wish they  had a candidate of their  own party on                                                                  
     the general  election ballot).   It is  only my  job to                                                                  
     assess   "how"  the   system  works   -  not   to  make                                                                  
     recommendations, so I take no position on HB200.                                                                         
     I would  be delighted to  be in  touch with any  of the                                                                    
     legislators  (for  HB200  or  against  it)  to  provide                                                                    
     further  information.    I  would  be  able  to  answer                                                                    
     questions not only  about California's and Washington's                                                                    
     experience  with  the  nonpartisan top-two  system  but                                                                    
     also about  primary elections  and election  rules more                                                                    
     generally in the United States.                                                                                            
     Thank you for  including me in this  hearing and giving                                                                    
     me an opportunity to tell you about my work.                                                                               
3:22:13 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  BIRCH  requested   Mr.  Sinclair's  testimony  in                                                               
writing.  He  opined that the proposed legislation  is a solution                                                               
in search of a problem.  He  asked for more explanation as to the                                                               
motivation behind HB 200.                                                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX responded  that constituents have expressed                                                               
to her  their frustration for not  being allowed to vote  for the                                                               
candidates of their choice,  as they used to be able  to do.  She                                                               
said  the  public is  particularly  dismayed  that the  state  is                                                               
paying over $1  million to conduct primary  elections for private                                                               
entities.  The  reason republicans and democrats  may close their                                                               
primaries  is  because  the  court  ruled  that  these  political                                                               
parties are  more like private clubs  that do not have  to accept                                                               
the votes of people who do not  belong to that club or who belong                                                               
to  another club.   She  asked,  "So if  you take  that for  face                                                               
value, then  why is the state  paying for these primaries?"   She                                                               
maintained that was the concern of her constituents.                                                                            
REPRESENTATIVE BIRCH  responded, "Aside  from the  obvious rather                                                               
self-serving nature  of this  legislation, and  I would  note the                                                               
Republican Democrat thing  was solved in Shungnak  by just giving                                                               
everybody one of  each ballot, but I'm not sure  that that passed                                                               
muster exactly."                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX asked for clarification of "self-serving."                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  BIRCH  explained  that   the  party  chooses  the                                                               
process  for advancing  a capable  and competent  candidate.   He                                                               
relayed that  the current  process for  the Republican  party [in                                                               
Alaska}  is that  all  individuals who  are  not affiliated  with                                                               
another  party  are free  to  vote  the  Republican ballot.    He                                                               
asserted  that the  public is  best  served when  a candidate  is                                                               
advanced in a  primary process.  He conceded that  the state does                                                               
pay  for it,  and it  can  be debated  as to  whether there  even                                                               
should be a  primary.  He maintained  that HB 200 would  not be a                                                               
good solution.                                                                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE  LEDOUX,   referring  to   Representative  Birch's                                                               
comment that the proposed  legislation is self-serving, clarified                                                               
that  HB  200,  if  passed,  would  be  effective  for  the  2020                                                               
election; therefore, it has nothing  to do with the 2018 election                                                               
or her.                                                                                                                         
3:27:01 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  KNOPP asked  if the  intent is  to return  to the                                                               
open  primary  system.    He relayed  his  understanding  of  the                                                               
process  under the  proposed  legislation:   there  would be  one                                                               
ballot, not  two; all the candidates'  names would be on  the one                                                               
ballot;  and  the top  two  vote  getters  would advance  to  the                                                               
general  election.   He  said  that  he doesn't  envision  Alaska                                                               
removing itself  from the  primary system process.   He  asked if                                                               
the candidates  would still  list their  party affiliations.   He                                                               
asked  also if  there could  be  a governor  of one  party and  a                                                               
lieutenant  governor of  another  party.   He questioned  whether                                                               
that scenario would be good for the state.                                                                                      
REPRESENTATIVE   LEDOUX  confirmed   that   under  the   proposed                                                               
legislation,  there  would be  one  ballot,  and all  candidates'                                                               
names  would be  on that  one ballot.   She  maintained that  the                                                               
difference between  what is proposed  and what occurred  prior to                                                               
2000 is  that prior to 2000,  all candidates were on  one ballot;                                                               
the Republican  with the most  votes, the Democrat with  the most                                                               
votes, and  the Libertarian with  the most votes all  advanced to                                                               
the general  election ballot.   Under  HB 200,  the top  two vote                                                               
getters  would advance  to the  general  election, regardless  of                                                               
their party affiliation.  She  said that party affiliation may or                                                               
may not  be included on the  ballot depending on the  will of the                                                               
candidate.  She responded to  the question about electing a split                                                               
ticket  by  saying  that  it  could  happen  under  the  proposed                                                               
legislation, but it can happen currently as well.                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE KNOPP  suggested that  the primary would  still be                                                               
operated by the state, so there  would be no cost savings for the                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  LEDOUX agreed  but inserted  that that  under the                                                               
proposed legislation, the state would  not be financing a private                                                               
entity's nomination process.                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE KNOPP relayed one  of the arguments of Republicans                                                               
advocating for  a closed primary  at the  time of the  2000 court                                                               
case:  Democrats will vote  for a "weak" Republican candidate who                                                               
could more readily  be defeated in a general election.   He asked                                                               
if that is a concern.                                                                                                           
REPRESENTATIVE  LEDOUX  offered  that her  experience  with  both                                                               
political  parties  convinces  her  that  neither  are  organized                                                               
enough to "pull that off."                                                                                                      
3:32:04 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS  asked  what  the motivation  was  for  the                                                               
California Democratic Party to sue to keep its primary closed.                                                                  
MR.  OLSON referred  to  the question  on  cross-over voting  and                                                               
pointed out that Mr. Sinclair  mentioned that he has studied this                                                               
in detail and  it has not occurred.  In  answer to Representative                                                               
Kreiss-Tomkins, Mr. Olson relayed  that the California Democratic                                                               
Party  sued  because  of  the   belief  that  it  is  politically                                                               
advantageous  to  the  establishment  of the  party  to  rein  in                                                               
control  of who  could participate  in its  primary process.   In                                                               
1996,  California voters  passed  Proposition  198, which  copied                                                               
Alaska's "blanket"  open primary  system.   Not long  after that,                                                               
the suit was filed by  the California Democratic Party, which was                                                               
supported by  the other parties  as well.  The  political parties                                                               
did not  want anyone but  their members controlling  who advances                                                               
to  the  general  election.    They  argued,  successfully,  that                                                               
because they are  private entities, the state  could not regulate                                                               
their primary processes;  the decision was seven to  two; it cast                                                               
a shadow  over every partisan  open primary  in the country.   He                                                               
asserted that  state funding of  primaries was not  introduced by                                                               
the  defense in  the case.   He  added that  as a  result, people                                                               
looking for  a new  system have embraced  the public  system that                                                               
copies Nebraska's "top-two" system.                                                                                             
3:35:47 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE TUCK commented  that using state funds  to pay for                                                               
private  self-interest  primaries makes  no  sense  to him.    He                                                               
maintained  that  a Republican  can  fill  out a  Republican  and                                                               
Democratic ballot,  because there  is no  limitation on  the open                                                               
primary ballots.  He opined that  one reason for allowing an open                                                               
primary  was to  allow smaller  parties to  "gain traction."   He                                                               
asserted  that  any  party  who wants  a  closed  primary  should                                                               
reimburse   Alaska  for   the  cost   of  doing   so,  or   party                                                               
organizations should  conduct their own  primaries as is  done in                                                               
the presidential  election.   In that  case, party  members would                                                               
decide  on the  candidate  from  the local  level  on  up to  the                                                               
national level.   He stated that he believes that  the passage of                                                               
HB 200  would get Alaska back  to the open primary  process where                                                               
people have  a choice and  are not  limited.  He  maintained that                                                               
often  people  are   not  voting  for  the  party   but  for  the                                                               
individual; and  the opportunity  to vote  for the  individual is                                                               
removed with the closed primary system that currently exists.                                                                   
3:37:45 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE WOOL stated  that as an independent,  his wife can                                                               
vote a Republican ballot; however,  if she does vote a Republican                                                               
ballot,  she  is   prevented  from  voting  for   anyone  on  the                                                               
Democratic  ballot.    He  relayed a  situation  brought  to  his                                                               
attention  by letters  included in  the committee  packet:   in a                                                               
predominantly  Republican  district,  four  Republicans  and  two                                                               
Democrats run  for office  in the primary;  because there  are so                                                               
many Republican  candidates, the Democrats  are the top  two vote                                                               
getters;  the people  in that  predominantly Republican  district                                                               
feel they are not represented by the candidates.                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX answered that  theoretically there could be                                                               
many different scenarios.  She said  that in the 2014 U.S. Senate                                                               
election in  Alaska, which is  a predominantly  Republican state,                                                               
there  were  three major  candidates  running  in the  Republican                                                               
primary and one Democrat running.   She maintained that under the                                                               
top  two system  proposed by  HB 200,  the race  would have  been                                                               
former  U.S.  Senator  Mark  Begich versus  Dan  Sullivan.    She                                                               
pointed out that  the results would not always be  affected.  She                                                               
suggested that  even though one could  come up with all  kinds of                                                               
scenarios  - like  12 Republicans  and 2  Democrats running  in a                                                               
primary - most likely that is not what would occur.                                                                             
3:40:39 PM                                                                                                                    
MR.  OLSON addressed  the scenario  in which  the two  Democratic                                                               
candidates are  the top  vote getters  in a  primarily Republican                                                               
district.  He  said that in California and  Washington, with over                                                               
1,200 elections under this system,  there have been three to five                                                               
times that  this scenario has  played out.   He opined  that when                                                               
that does happen,  the elected official works very  hard to reach                                                               
out  to  the  opposing  party, because  he/she  wants  to  retain                                                               
his/her seat.                                                                                                                   
MR.  SINCLAIR concurred  and  said that  in  California that  has                                                               
occurred in  about 1 in 500  elections; and the one  election, in                                                               
which it occurred, was influenced by redistricting.                                                                             
3:43:36 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE TUCK suggested that HB  200 should have a negative                                                               
fiscal note, because it would  avoid the printing of two separate                                                               
ballots;  it would  avoid having  to  estimate how  many of  each                                                               
ballot to print;  and it would avoid having to  estimate how many                                                               
ballots to send to each voting location.                                                                                        
3:44:35 PM                                                                                                                    
COURTNEY ENRIGHT, Staff,  Representative Gabrielle LeDoux, Alaska                                                               
State  Legislature, on  behalf  of  Representative LeDoux,  prime                                                               
sponsor of  HB 200, relayed  that there  would be a  cost savings                                                               
related   to   the   number    of   ballots   printed;   however,                                                               
implementation costs for  the new system would  also be expected.                                                               
Under the proposed system, if  there is a special election, there                                                               
would need  to be a primary  and a runoff election.   She relayed                                                               
that while there is an expected  savings of close to $100,000 per                                                               
election  under the  system proposed,  it is  negated due  to the                                                               
other cost factors.                                                                                                             
CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS  mentioned that Louisiana has  had a general                                                               
primary for quite some time and  asked if that state is analogous                                                               
to what is being proposed.                                                                                                      
REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX  replied that Louisiana's  "jungle" primary                                                               
is slightly  different in  that if one  candidate in  the primary                                                               
gets 51 percent of the vote  or greater, then that person has won                                                               
the election, and  there would be no general election;  it is not                                                               
a top two "runoff" system.                                                                                                      
MR. OLSON confirmed  that Louisiana's system is  different from a                                                               
top two system in that  technically there is no primary; everyone                                                               
runs in  the general election  and like a municipal  election, if                                                               
no one  receives 50 percent of  the vote, then there  is a runoff                                                               
election.   He  maintained  that the  challenge with  Louisiana's                                                               
system  is  that  the  runoff election  often  has  low  turnout,                                                               
because it occurs in late November  or early December.  He stated                                                               
that the Louisiana  system is different from a top  two system; a                                                               
top two  system is  a proper primary  system; and  although there                                                               
are similarities, there are marked differences as well.                                                                         
MR. SINCLAIR concurred.                                                                                                         
3:47:22 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  WOOL referred  to  the situation  in the  [House]                                                               
District  40 race  last year;  there were  multiple ballots,  and                                                               
people wanted to choose from all  candidates.  He stated that the                                                               
single ballot under HB 200 would eliminate that frustration.                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  LEDOUX  claimed  that  the  proposed  legislation                                                               
would certainly make the process more efficient.                                                                                
MR. SINCLAIR  pointed out another difference  under a nonpartisan                                                               
top two  system with a  single ballot:   In Alaska's  old blanket                                                               
primary  system, if  a political  party had  only one  candidate,                                                               
that candidate  would be guaranteed to  advance; therefore, there                                                               
would be  no "cost" to  voting for  the weakest candidate  in the                                                               
other  party's  primary.    That system  has  now  been  declared                                                               
unconstitutional.  In the nonpartisan  top two system, if someone                                                               
voted for a weak candidate of  another party, he/she would put at                                                               
risk his/her preferred  candidate.  He maintained  there would be                                                               
less strategic behavior  under the top two system  than under the                                                               
old system.                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE WOOL asked  if the jungle primary is  ever used in                                                               
conjunction  with "ranked-choice"  voting; if  one chose  to vote                                                               
for  a more  obscure candidate,  he/she could  vote for  a second                                                               
more mainstream choice so as not to throw away his/her vote.                                                                    
MR. OLSON  answered that it  is not  currently done; it  could be                                                               
used in  the first round of  voting; and it has  been proposed in                                                               
some areas.   He clarified that the jungle primary  refers to the                                                               
Louisiana system; the  Nebraska style top two  primary system was                                                               
adopted  by California  and Washington  after losing  the blanket                                                               
open primary system.                                                                                                            
CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS announced that HB 200 would be held over.