Alaska House votes to advance bill that would trim state voter rolls more quickly

Sarah Vance
Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, speaks Friday, Feb. 2, 2024, on the floor of the Alaska House. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

The Alaska House of Representatives has voted along bipartisan lines to shorten the time needed to remove someone from the state’s voting registry. 

The move is part of an effort to deflate the state’s voter rolls, which currently contain many more people than are eligible to vote in the state, an artifact of the state’s transient population and the fact that it’s much easier to add someone to the rolls than it is to remove them.

If signed into law, House Bill 129 would allow the state to remove someone from its rolls in six years instead of eight. Alaska’s existing eight-year timeline is one of the longest in the country, according to records kept by the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the new six-year timeline is longer than the four-year minimum in federal law. 

In addition, the bill would put into law best practices for maintaining the list and require the Alaska Division of Elections to promptly notify voters if their information is released in a data breach. One such breach took place in 2020, but elections officials didn’t notify the public until after the election.

Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, is chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which sponsored the legislation. 

“The need to bring election reform comes from the outcry of the people of Alaska,” she said.

Rep. Andrew Gray, D-Anchorage, said HB 129 is “a commonsense bill.”

The Alaska Division of Elections listed 584,508 registered voters who were at least 20 years old at the start of July 2023. That’s 108% of the estimated 20-and-over population in July 2023. The percentage estimate is based on people are 20 and older because people aged 18 and 19 are lumped together with younger teenagers in population estimates, making it impossible to easily include them in the calculation.

If noncitizens and felons unable to vote were subtracted, the percentage would be even higher. 

Alaska’s voter list has been lopsided for years, and critics say it’s an invitation for fraud. They argue that someone could cast ballots under disused names, swaying the election.

That hasn’t happened in the state, but Vance said the changes in HB 129 will give skeptics some reassurance and trust in the system. 

A handful of House Democrats opposed the changes in the bill.

State law doesn’t require someone to live in Alaska to be a registered voter here. Instead, it only says that someone needs to establish a home and then have an “intent to return.”

Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, noted that members of the military, Peace Corps, missionaries living abroad, and other Alaskans outside the state aren’t included in the population estimate, meaning that the appearance of an inflated voter roll may be misleading.

Under HB 129, someone who hasn’t voted, signed a political petition or otherwise interacted with the Division of Elections during the previous two years will be mailed a letter warning that their registration will be labeled as “inactive.”

If they return the letter, they’ll remain an active voter.

If they don’t, their name will no longer appear on their precinct register and they’ll have to fill out a questioned ballot — which requires extra verification steps — the next time they vote. 

If they fail to vote in the two subsequent general elections (four years), they’ll be removed from the voter rolls.

Current law says someone can miss two elections before getting the warning letter.

Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, said he’s concerned that making someone fill out a questioned ballot could deter them from voting. 

But that was a minority concern, and the final vote was 33-6. Voting no were Josephson and Hannan, plus Reps. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage; Alyse Galvin, I-Anchorage; CJ McCormick, D-Bethel; and Donna Mears, D-Anchorage. Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, was excused absent.

HB 129 is the first bill to pass out of the House in this year’s legislative session. It advances to the Senate.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and X.

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