JUNEAU — Last Wednesday, the Alaska Division of Elections sent out about 560,000 ballots for Alaska’s first statewide mail-in election, the vote to temporarily fill the House seat. of the United States opened by the death of US Representative Don Young.
In the coming days, those ballots will be delivered to addresses on the state’s long list of registered voters. That list, as of April 3, had 586,318 entries, but the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development estimates there are only 552,462 people of voting age living in Alaska. .
Do the math, and that’s a voter registration rate of 106%. Subtract non-citizens and convicted felons ineligible to vote, and the rate rises – it was 113% at the time of the 2020 election, according to one estimate.
This rate is not the result of fraud or illegal activity, say election experts.
Instead, they attribute it to a combination of factors:
• Alaska has a robust and successful registration process. Anyone who requests a dividend from the Permanent Fund — and in Alaska, that’s almost everyone — is automatically registered to vote, unless they’re ineligible or withdraw.
• Between 1990 and 2019, Alaska had the highest gross migration rate of any state, and the state continues to remain at or near the top of the list for mobility.
• State law allows people to remain registered when they move, as long as they “intend to return” to Alaska and are not registering to vote elsewhere.
• The Permanent Fund dividend provides a great incentive to maintain this return intention.
“If a voter leaves, they may, as long as they say they intend to return, remain registered to vote in the state of Alaska,” said Gail Fenumiai, director of the Alaska Division of Elections. .
Other states have similar “intent to return” laws, but here the possibility of a Permanent Fund dividend provides an incentive to keep an Alaskan residence alive for as long as possible.
“Alaska is extremely unusual for a big, huge reason. And that’s the Permanent Fund’s dividend,” said David Becker, a nonpartisan election consultant who has worked with the state before.
“Because Alaska offers a benefit to residents that no other state offers, people have a strong incentive to continue residing in Alaska, even if they are temporarily living elsewhere,” he said.
As of April 28, Alaska had 35,923 registered voters with outside mailing addresses. If this population were a city, it would be the second largest in Alaska.
Of these outside voters, 14,344 cast ballots in the 2020 general election, or 4% of all election ballots.
Two years ago, a person living out of town had to apply to receive a mail-in ballot unless they returned to the state and voted in person. For the special race for the United States House, ballots are automatically sent to all registered voters.
These voters are asked to choose one of 48 candidates and then return the stamped ballot to the Elections Division.
During a Senate Finance Committee hearing Thursday, Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, asked if anyone is breaking the law if they checked in at an address, walked away ago 10 years and continued to vote.
“No, there isn’t necessarily a crime there,” prosecutor Thomas Flynn said, adding that he would have to review state law for that specific assumption.
Outside registered voters don’t explain all the oddity in registration rates. Often people move without changing their address.
Between July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021, more than 40,000 people left Alaska and more than 37,000 moved into the state. Add those two numbers together and divide by the state’s population, and you get a gross migration rate of 10.6%.
Between 1990 and 2019, Alaska had a gross migration rate of 12.4%. That’s higher than any other state in the country, according to statistics from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
If someone stops voting in Alaska when they leave and doesn’t unregister when they leave, federal rules mean the Division of Elections can take more than four years to remove them from the list.
“We have 40,000 people, on average, coming into the state every year. Forty thousand people leave the state. We don’t teach people to unsubscribe,” said Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla.
“It’s not malicious. They just don’t know any better,” he said.
There is no record of these registrations being used to commit fraud, such as could occur if someone claimed to be an inactive or out-of-state voter and sought to vote using their name.
The state has security measures in place to detect this type of fraud: for example, a voter and a witness must sign a mail-in ballot and provide identification that can be verified by election officials.
In the Alaska Legislature, two election bills — one in the House and one in the Senate — are moving forward with broad support and would change some of those security measures.
In other states, electoral reform legislation has fallen along intense partisan lines, with Republicans saying they want to improve security and Democrats saying the methods used to achieve that security disenfranchise voters.
Here, top lawmakers said a bill would only move forward if it had the support of Republicans, Democrats and independents combined.
To that end, Shower and Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, are collaborating on separate measures, one in the House and one in the Senate, which are similar and intended to be combined and passed before the end of the legislative session. May 18.
Both bills would require the Division of Elections to compare signatures on mailed-in ballots to those on a voter’s registration card. (Anchorage already does this with its elections.)
Both would require the division to increase the number of databases it consults when updating the voters list, and the division would be required to take additional steps to inform voters of how to unregister when they’re moving.
Neither bill changes the wording of “intent to return” in state law, and neither changes the Permanent Fund’s dividend voter registration program. Previous versions of Shower’s Bill would have changed the program to an opt-in program instead of an opt-out program.