• Alaska: Alaska's Republican-run state Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would allow Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer to order that the state's Aug. 18 downballot primaries be conducted entirely by mail. (The lieutenant governor is Alaska's chief election official.) However, Republicans blocked an attempt by Democrats to require that the state provide dropboxes where voters can return their ballots, an option that is very popular in states that have adopted universal voting by mail, in part because it obviates the need for a postage stamp and avoids the risk of delayed mail return service.
The bill now goes to the state House, which is controlled by a Democratic-led coalition that includes Republicans and independents. The Alaska Daily News says that Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy is "expected" to sign the measure "speedily" if both chambers pass it.
Alaska Democrats have also canceled in-person voting for their April 4 presidential primary and will instead extend the deadline by which absentee ballots must be received to April 10 (previously, ballots had to be postmarked by March 24). Ballots have already been mailed to 71,000 voters, but voters can also download a ballot from the party's website.
• Alaska: Supporters of an initiative effort that would change Alaska's electoral system have submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for November's ballot if it survives an upcoming court battle. The measure would replace Alaska's traditional primaries with a "top-four" primary where the four candidates with the most support advance to the general election, regardless of party. In the general election, voters would use instant-runoff voting to choose from the final four. The initiative would also create campaign donor disclosure requirements for "dark money" donations that are currently exempt.
However, Alaska Republicans are trying to thwart the measure in court, arguing that it violates the limitation on the number of subjects a single initiative may address. A lower court previously ruled that the initiative could proceed, but an appeal is pending before the state Supreme Court.
Alaska: Supporters have turned in more than 41,000 signatures, 28,501 of which must be valid, for a ballot initiative that would change Alaska's electoral system for congressional and state offices and impose new campaign finance regulations. Although we had previously described this proposal as adopting "open primaries" based on media reports, that terminology isn't quite accurate
Rather than simply let voters choose which party's primary to vote in regardless of which party they're registered with—as they're permitted to do in open primary states—this reform would abolish traditional primaries and have all candidates run on a single primary ballot regardless of party. The top four finishers would advance to the general election regardless of their party affiliation, and the general election would then use instant-runoff voting to select the winner.
This system is somewhat similar to the "top-two" primary in California and Washington, a system we have frequently criticized for its propensity to yield undemocratic outcomes. One major problem with top-two is that, if the minority party only runs two candidates with relatively equal support and the majority party's votes are fractured among several candidates, the party that wins fewer votes in the primary can take both slots in the general election. This has in fact happened multiple times, even in races where the minority party would have lost in a one-on-one matchup with the majority party.
The risk of one party getting shut out of a winnable general election is notably lower with four candidates advancing to the general election rather than with just two, though it's not zero. The adoption of instant-runoff voting, meanwhile, could have a profound impact on elections in Alaska, where nine of its 16 elections for governor since statehood in 1959 have seen a candidate prevail with only a simple plurality, as have its last five U.S. Senate elections. The initiative would also require "dark money" campaign organizations to disclose the sources of their contributions.
The measure's path to the ballot is not yet clear, however. Republican state officials are trying to block it in court by arguing it violates the ban on initiatives addressing more than a single subject, and litigation remains ongoing.