This year, the country celebrates the hundred-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Alaska did not vote for or against the amendment because we were not a state at the time it was ratified. Fortunately, Alaskan women already had the right to vote seven years earlier, beginning in 1913.
The suffrage movement, of course, gave women the right to vote. Now it is time to make sure that vote continues to count and our voices are truly heard. The Alaskans for Better Elections Initiative is working to reform Alaskan elections with Ballot Measure 2, which aims to increase voter turnout, give voters more choice, and strengthen our voices. Voting yes on Ballot Measure 2 should be a priority for every Alaskan voter, even more so for women and especially for independent and nonaffiliated voters. But how will Ballot Measure 2 do that?
Ballot Measure 2 will put an end to “dark money” contributions and create more transparency for donor spending. Currently, donor groups can spend money on specific election costs without disclosing the actual source of the contributions. The proposed reforms will require campaigns to identify the source of donations of $2,000 or more.
When campaigns use dark money spending to shield the identity of the donor, voters are left in the dark about who actually supports the political candidate. In 2018, $818 million of dark money contributions was spent across the nation.
For independent voters, we need to know where a candidate stands on specific issues and what motivates them. Dark money spending runs the risk of a candidate receiving funds from an interest group that we may or may not agree with, and we could elect a candidate unknowing of their stance on certain issues.
The second component of Ballot Measure 2 is to establish open primaries, where all Alaskan voters can vote in a single ballot regardless of political parties. Open primaries simplify the voting process and increase voter turnout by consolidating every candidate running for office on one ballot. The top four candidates from the primaries will move forward to the general election.
Additionally, Ballot Measure 2 will incorporate ranked choice voting for general elections. This process gives voters the power to rank candidates in order of preference, from 1 to 4. This means that the candidate with the most support is actually elected to office, instead of a candidate who did not receive a true majority of votes.
Our unique voter demographic is incredibly persuasive as to why we need these reforms. A majority of Alaskan voters are registered as independent, nonpartisan, undeclared, or a member of a third party. However, this same majority of voters are required to choose a partisan ballot and face a general election that might not reflect their actual preferences.
Open primaries and ranked choice voting just make sense when the majority of Alaskan voters are not party affiliated. Both reforms protect against situations where voters feel like they have to vote for a candidate as the lesser of two evils, like we saw in 2016. Together, open primaries and ranked choice voting give voters more choice in candidates and ensure that candidates with the majority of support of voters are elected to office.
Neither reform is entirely new. Several cities and Maine use ranked choice voting and a majority of voters find it somewhat or very easy. Alaska used the open primary system for fifty years, until the Supreme Court declared that blanket open primaries were unconstitutional in 2000. Now, the Alaskan Supreme Court has declared that the current reforms on Ballot Measure 2 are constitutional.
These voting reforms allow Alaskans to vote true to our values and beliefs, rather than by party lines. They will help to create more transparency in elections and make sure voter voices are heard to ensure our candidates accurately represent our communities. And besides just empowering women in the voting booth, a more equitable it may just encourage more of them to run as candidates, which would truly fulfill our suffrage.
• Sabrena Combs is a steering committee member for Yes on 2 for Better Elections. She is a lifelong Alaskan, mom, nonpartisan community servant and elected leader for the City of Palmer.