Legislature(2009 - 2010)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)

03/01/2010 01:30 PM Senate JUDICIARY

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        SB 260-ELECTRIC & TELEPHONE COOPERATIVES' VOTING                                                                    
CHAIR FRENCH announced the consideration of SB 260.                                                                             
1:32:44 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR LINDA MENARD, sponsor of SB 260, read the following                                                                     
sponsor statement into the record:                                                                                              
     Senate  Bill  260  puts  in  statute  the  ability  for                                                                    
     telephone or electric cooperatives  to allow members to                                                                    
     vote  by electronic  transmission as  specified by  the                                                                    
     co-op's by-laws.  The bill was  filed at the  urging of                                                                    
     co-ops around the state.                                                                                                   
     Currently, coop members may only  vote in person or via                                                                    
     the postal  service. This method, however,  is outdated                                                                    
     and  could  be  having  a  negative  impact  on  member                                                                    
     participation   in   elections  and   other   important                                                                    
     By  allowing telephone  and electric  co-ops to  permit                                                                    
     voting via electronic transmission  approved in its by-                                                                    
     laws,  the  Legislature  will make  it  so  common  21                                                                     
     century practices  may be  applied to  important public                                                                    
     involvement matters.                                                                                                       
     There is a zero fiscal  note with this bill, and co-ops                                                                    
     in  every  corner  of  Alaska   will  be  enthused  the                                                                    
     Legislature has  had the foresight to  pass legislation                                                                    
     important to  their public process. This  bill does not                                                                    
     make  electronic  transmission  voting  mandatory,  and                                                                    
      cooperatives choose whether they want to partake or                                                                       
       Already, however, Matanuska Telephone Association                                                                        
     (MTA) members have voted to adopt a new bylaw allowing                                                                     
     electronic transmission voting. All MTA, and other co-                                                                     
     ops, need is for the Legislature to amend the statute                                                                      
     to allow these co-ops to do so.                                                                                            
CHAIR FRENCH  told the committee  that he's comfortable  with the                                                               
bill having  heard it in  a previous  committee. The key  is that                                                               
it's permissive, not mandatory, he said.                                                                                        
SENATOR  COGHILL asked  for  an explanation  of  what the  bylaws                                                               
would look like under this condition.                                                                                           
1:36:05 PM                                                                                                                    
PHIL  STEYER,  Manager,  Government &  Corporate  Communications,                                                               
Chugach  Electric   Association,  Inc.,  said   Chugach  Electric                                                               
supports SB 260.  It adds an option to what  is currently allowed                                                               
in  statute, but  it's not  mandatory. Members  of a  co-op would                                                               
have to  vote to amend  their bylaws to allow  electronic voting.                                                               
Chugach Electric members already voted  to amend their own bylaws                                                               
to allow this.                                                                                                                  
He pointed out that the  phrase "as specified by the cooperative"                                                               
is  intended  to  allow  each   cooperative  to  define  election                                                               
procedures that  work for that organization.  Chugach intends for                                                               
members to vote via the Internet,  but it could be something else                                                               
for another  cooperative. Cooperatives that belong  to the Alaska                                                               
Power Association,  which is a  statewide trade  organization for                                                               
electric utilities,  have worked to develop  appropriate language                                                               
that each cooperative could support, he said.                                                                                   
1:38:33 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI joined the committee.                                                                                      
SENATOR  COGHILL commented  that this  has been  considered in  a                                                               
number of different forms in the Legislature.                                                                                   
CHAIR  FRENCH  asked what  it  takes  to change  a  cooperative's                                                               
MR. STEYER  explained that Chugach  Electric puts a  ballot issue                                                               
before  its members  to amend  the bylaws.  A simple  majority is                                                               
required. He noted  that the vote in 2001 to  amend the bylaws to                                                               
allow electronic voting was a significant majority.                                                                             
MR. STEYER responded to Senator  Coghill's question and explained                                                               
that Chugach Electric's  bylaws mirror the language  in AS 10.25,                                                               
which says, "A member may not vote  by proxy but may vote, if the                                                               
bylaws so  provide, by  mail." Chugach Electric  bylaws go  on to                                                               
say  that a  ballot  packet  will be  mailed  out  in advance  as                                                               
specified in  statute and  that the  Board is  required to  set a                                                               
record date that is consistent with state statute.                                                                              
If SB 260 passes, Chugach  Electric would consider whether or not                                                               
it  could  do electronic  voting  securely  before moving  ahead.                                                               
Electronic voting would  need to be as secure as  by mail and in-                                                               
person voting is today.                                                                                                         
SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI asked if  security procedures are sufficient                                                               
to do this safely.                                                                                                              
MR.   STEYER  replied   Chugach  Electric   hasn't  entered   any                                                               
agreement, but it  has met with prospective  vendors. He's spoken                                                               
with two  co-ops in other  states that participate  in electronic                                                               
voting to  ask if it  increased voter turnout, if  younger voters                                                               
in  particular   are  participating,  and  if   there  have  been                                                               
problems.   Answers   to   the  first   two   questions   weren't                                                               
illuminating, but both co-ops indicated  that they encountered no                                                               
problems with the process.                                                                                                      
1:43:25 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI  asked if  the bill would  allow a  co-op to                                                               
offer  only electronic  elections. He  said he'd  have a  problem                                                               
with that because a lot of  his constituents don't have access to                                                               
MR.  STEYER replied  the statute  has been  amended over  time as                                                               
accepted  procedures   and  technology  has   changed.  Initially                                                               
members could only  vote in person and now they  are able to vote                                                               
either in-person  or by  mail. The language  in the  bill doesn't                                                               
take away that ability, he said.                                                                                                
CHAIR FRENCH  suggested it might be  a good idea to  clarify that                                                               
electronic and by mail balloting  would take place simultaneously                                                               
in the same election.                                                                                                           
SENATOR  WIELECHOWSKI   commented  that  the   proposed  language                                                               
appears to make it possible for a  co-op to opt to offer only the                                                               
less  expensive  electronic voting.  He  reiterated  that it's  a                                                               
concern for those people who don't have access to a computer.                                                                   
1:46:02 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR EGAN  commented that if Alaskans  can file electronically                                                               
for  a PFD  then they  can figure  this out  too. He  said he  is                                                               
pleased that both  large and small co-ops  are enthusiastic about                                                               
this possibility.                                                                                                               
CHAIR  FRENCH   observed  that  support  is   quite  strong,  and                                                               
announced  he  would hold  SB  260  to consider  some  clarifying                                                               

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