"The sections of the bill that change Alaska law relating to filling such vacancies are exactly the same, word for word, as the language of the initiative."
- Rep. McGuire
"An Act relating to filling the vacancy in the office of United States senator, and to the definition of 'political party.'"
HB 414 seeks to redress two current shortcomings in Alaska's Elections Act. There are two primary components to HB 414, each a response to a clear call for changes to Alaska Statutes so as to provide: firstly, for the fairest method of selecting individuals for a vitally important public office; and, secondly, to respect the will of the Alaskan people regarding choices they make to associate as political parties.
HB 414 will change the way a vacancy in one of Alaska's two seats in the United States Senate is filled when such a vacancy occurs. Currently, Alaska law provides that the Governor appoints a person of his or her choice from the same political party as the person who vacated the seat, when one of Alaska's two U.S. Senate seats becomes vacant, a process governed by the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Last year a group of Alaskans calling itself "Trust the People" began gathering signatures to place an initiative on the ballot this year that would change Alaska Statutes to allow for a special election in the case of any vacancy in one of Alaska's two U.S. Senate seats. This group was successful in obtaining enough signatures, which allowed the Division of Elections to certify the petition, and prepare to place the initiative on the November 2004 ballot.
HB 414 listens to the will of the many Alaskans who signed petitions in favor of electing some one to fill a vacancy in one of Alaska's two U.S. Senate seats. The sections of the bill that change Alaska law relating to filling such vacancies are exactly the same, word for word, as the language of the initiative. Supporting HB 414 is a clear way to implement the will of a large number of Alaskan voters.
The second part of HB 414 addresses a lawsuit brought by the Green Party of Alaska against the State Division of Elections. The case grew out of the Green Party's dissatisfaction with the interplay between the results of the 2002 gubernatorial election and the definition of "political party" in the Alaska Elections Act. In order to obtain political party status, the current definition requires a party to have nominated a candidate for Governor who received at least three percent of the popular vote in the preceding gubernatorial election. Alternatively, a party is recognized if it has registered voters under its banner equal in number to three percent of the total number of votes cast for Governor in the immediately preceding general election.
In 2002, the Green Party candidate for Governor garnered less than the minimum three percent needed to maintain the Green's status as a political party and, thus, the party sought an injunction of the law. The court acceded to the Green Party's request and enjoined enforcement of the law so that the Greens could avoid irreparable harm by continuing to participate in politics with the benefits of being a full political party. The order accompanying the court's injunction noted that the Green Party had been successful in winning over six percent of the vote in races for federal elective positions, namely U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator, and instructed the State to continue treating the Green Party with the deference due to a statutorily-defined political party until the General Election in November 2004 or until the Legislature, "corrects the problems with party eligibility in the statutes."
HB 414 responds directly to the court's order by expanding the types of statewide races to which the Division of Elections can look in ascertaining whether a party enjoys enough popular support to merit official status. It adds two different gauges to the law, so that if there is not a gubernatorial election, then an assemblage of voters can refer to its success in the most recent U.S. Senate or U.S. House race to earn official political party status under the statutes. The changes to the Alaska Elections Act wrought by the second half of HB 414 will inject fairness to the process of obtaining political party status in Alaska. Parties will be able to refer to their good showing in the most recent statewide race, never more than two years in the past, in order to demonstrate that they are supported by the voting public and deserve the statutory benefits conferred on political parties.
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"The changes to the Alaska Elections Act wrought by the second half of HB 414 will inject fairness to the process of obtaining political party status in Alaska."