Legislature(2009 - 2010)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)
03/01/2010 01:30 PM JUDICIARY
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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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 This method, however, is outdated and could be having a negative impact on member participation in elections and other important matters. By allowing telephone and electric co-ops to permit voting via electronic transmission approved in its by- st 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 not. 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 bylaws. 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 computers. 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 language.