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Stories about Alaska

45 years ago, Alaska voters approved measure removing residency requirement for presidential elections

Forty-five years ago—on August 23, 1966—Alaska voters approved a measure permitting the state legislature to shorten the residency requirement for persons living in Alaska who wished to vote only for President and Vice President of the United States. It was the first measure the state legislature referred to the ballot since Alaska received statehood in January 1959. Voters approved the amendment 75% to 25%.

According to a 1963 Senate Judiciary Committee report on proposed constitutional amendments, 35 states required residents to live in their current state for one year before becoming eligible to vote. These laws prevented people from voting—even for President—when they moved between states. The Senate even drafted a constitutional amendment to eliminate such requirements nationwide.

Here is a quote from the 1963 Senate Judiciary Committee report summarizing the issue:

“The victims of these outmoded residence requirements include many citizens who are best equipped to exercise the right of voting, such as educators, clergymen, and professional people. Interstate businesses constantly shift managers, salesmen, and other executives. The American Heritage Foundation estimates that 8 million adult American citizens were barred from the ballot box in the 1960 elections by inability to meet State, county, or precinct residence requirements. Apart from the possible effects upon election results, this produces apathy and bitterness in such people toward governments which cheat them of their democratic birthright merely because they move their residence.”

The Alaska measure removed the one-year voter residency requirement that was in the state Constitution. The following year—in 1967—the Alaska legislature eliminated those residency requirements in state law. 

In 1970, Congress amended the Voting Rights Act and abolished state residency requirements nationwide as a precondition for voting for President and established uniform standards for absentee voting in presidential elections.

Additional reading:

https://ballotpedia.org/Voting_Rights_Act

https://ballotpedia.org/List_of_Alaska_ballot_measures



Governors appoint new supreme court justices in two states

Alaska and Arizona have new state supreme court justices after appointments from their respective governors. Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) appointed Jennifer Stuart Henderson to the Alaska Supreme Court on July 7, and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) appointed Kathryn Hackett King to the Arizona Supreme Court on July 8.

Alaska

A seat on the Alaska Supreme Court became vacant when former Chief Justice Joel Bolger retired on June 30, 2021. Gov. Dunleavy selected Jennifer Stuart Henderson for the seat from a list of three finalists forwarded by the Alaska Judicial Council (AJC). Henderson is Gov. Dunleavy’s second nominee to the five-member supreme court.

On July 1, Dunleavy asked the AJC to reconsider its list of nominees and put forward a new slate to fill the vacancy. However, under the council’s bylaws, it may not reconsider nominees that have been sent to the governor except in specific circumstances. Ultimately, Dunleavy appointed Henderson from the original slate of three names put forward by the AJC.

Prior to her appointment to the supreme court, Henderson served as a judge on the Alaska superior court. She was appointed to the superior court in 2012 by former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R). Her career experience also includes working as an assistant district attorney in Anchorage and as an attorney in private practice with the law firm of Farley & Graves. After law school, she served as a clerk for former Alaska Supreme Court Justice Warren Matthews. Henderson earned a J.D. from Yale Law School.

Arizona

A seat on the Arizona Supreme Court became vacant when former Justice Andrew W. Gould retired on April 1, 2021. Gov. Ducey selected Kathryn Hackett King for the seat from a slate of nominees put forward by the Arizona Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. King is Gov. Ducey’s sixth nominee to the seven-member supreme court.

Before her appointment to the supreme court, King was a partner at the law firm of BurnsBarton PLC. She also served as a member of the Arizona Board of Regents. From 2015 to 2017, King served as the deputy general counsel to Gov. Ducey. She previously practiced law at Snell & Wilmer LLP. After graduation from law school, King clerked for former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Ryan from 2007 to 2008. She is the fifth woman in Arizona history to serve on the state supreme court.

King earned a B.A. in political science from Duke University and a J.D. from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.

In 2021, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. To date, nine of those 14 vacancies have been filled.

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Alaska Supreme Court Justice Joel Bolger retires

Alaska Supreme Court Justice Joel Bolger retired on June 30. Former Gov. Sean Parnell (R) appointed Bolger to the state supreme court in 2013, and voters retained him in 2016 with 57% of the vote. When he retired, Bolger was the court’s chief justice, a position he had held since 2018.

Bolger is the only justice in Alaska’s history to have been appointed to all four levels of the state court system. Before joining the Alaska Supreme Court, he was a judge of the Alaska Court of Appeals from 2008 to 2013, the Kodiak Superior Court from 2003 to 2008, and the Valdez District Court from 1997 to 2003. 

When there is a midterm vacancy on the Alaska Supreme Court, the governor selects a nominee based on recommendations from the Alaska Judicial Council. To remain in office, the new appointee must stand for retention in the first general election after they serve at least three years on the bench. After that, the judge is subject to a retention election every 10 years.

Republican governors appointed three of the four active Alaska Supreme Court justices; an independent governor appointed the fourth. Bolger’s replacement will be Gov. Dunleavy’s (R) second appointee to the state supreme court.

In 2021, there have been 14 state supreme court vacancies caused by retirements in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected.

Additional reading:

Alaska Supreme Court

Joel Bolger

State supreme court vacancies, 2021

Judicial selection in Alaska



Alaska legislature confirms Treg Taylor as attorney general

A joint session of the Alaska Legislature voted 35-24 to confirm Treg Taylor as the state’s attorney general on May 11. Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) appointed Taylor as acting attorney general on Jan. 29 after Ed Sniffen resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct. 

Before Dunleavy appointed Taylor attorney general, Taylor served as deputy attorney general in charge of the civil division at the Alaska Department of Law. In 2016, he ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Anchorage Municipal Assembly.

The two previous attorneys general of Alaska both resigned due to allegations of misconduct. Kevin Clarkson resigned after an investigation revealed that he had sent inappropriate text messages to a junior employee. Sniffen resigned after a former member of a high school mock trial team coached by Sniffen alleged that she and Sniffen had a sexual relationship when she was 17 years old.

The attorney general is a state executive office in all 50 states and is the chief legal advisor for state government. Attorneys general are empowered to prosecute violations of state law, represent the state in legal disputes, and issue legal advice to state agencies and the legislature. 

Nationwide, 26 states have Republican Party-affiliated attorneys general, and 24 states have Democratic Party-affiliated attorneys general. Virginia is the only state electing its attorney general this year. Thirty states will elect an attorney general in 2022.

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Anchorage mayoral race remains uncertain as ballots continue to be counted

The outcome of the Anchorage, Alaska, mayoral election remains unclear after preliminary results posted by the city showed Forrest Dunbar leading Dave Bronson with 50.8% of the vote. As of the posting, at least 6,600 ballots had not yet been counted, and mail-in ballots continued to arrive. Mail-in ballots postmarked no later than election day, May 11, will continue to be counted if they arrive by May 21. Overseas ballots must arrive by May 25.

Based on the over 78,000 ballots received so far, the voter turnout rate is at 30.5% of registered voters and already exceeds the 75,441 votes cast in the April 6 general election. The city’s highest recorded voter turnout was in the 2018 mayoral election in which 36.3% of registered voters cast 79,295 votes. If the race remains within the current margins, the city will conduct a recount. The candidates are currently separated by 0.16% of the vote, and Anchorage municipal code stipulates that an automatic recount be conducted for city elections in which a candidate wins by less than 0.5%.

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Alaska ends coronavirus state of emergency for second time

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) lifted the state’s coronavirus emergency order on April 30. Dunleavy’s emergency powers originally expired Feb. 14, causing his emergency declaration to end. But the emergency order’s expiration prevented the state from accessing an additional $8 million of federal food assistance benefits for April.

In response, the legislature passed House Bill 76, and Dunleavy signed the legislation on April 30. The bill retroactively extended the disaster emergency from Feb. 14 through the end of 2021. The retroactive extension allowed the state to access the federal food assistance benefits. 

The bill also allowed Department of Health and Social Services Director Adam Crump to issue a limited disaster emergency order April 30 to secure future federal assistance. After Gov. Dunleavy signed the legislation and Crump signed the limited order, the governor re-ended the state’s emergency order, effective April 30.

HB 76 passed the state Senate April 28. The state House approved the legislation April 29. The new law also enacts legal immunity for businesses against claims related to COVID-19.



Anchorage, Alaska local ballot measure recap

Unofficial election results indicate that voters in Anchorage, Alaska approved nine measures and defeated two measures on April 6.

Anchorage voters defeated Proposition 1, a $6.9 million bond measure for construction and renovation of local facilities, with 53% against and 46% in favor.

Proposition 2 was approved with 54% of the vote. Proposition 2 authorized the city to issue $1.15 million in bonds to fund renovations for the Anchorage Senior Activity Center, Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center, and Loussac Library.

Proposition 3 was approved with 53% of the vote. It allows the city to issue $5.3 million in bonds for transportation projects.

Proposition 4 was approved with 54% of the vote. The measure authorized an increase in the municipal tax cap, not exceeding $5.32 per $100,000 in assessed value, thereby generating an estimated $1.8 million annually. The revenue will be used to purchase for the Anchorage Police Department computer-aided dispatch, record-management, and digital-evidence management systems, in-car and body-worn cameras, and related technologies and services.

Proposition 5 was approved with 57% of the vote. It authorized $36.425 million in bonds to fund roads and storm drainage capital acquisition and renovation of related capital improvements in the Anchorage Roads and Drainage Service Area.

Proposition 6 was approved with 54% of the vote. The measure authorized the city to issue $4 million in bonds to fund parks and recreational services.

Proposition 7 was approved with 60% of the vote. The measure authorized the city to issue $1.95 million in bonds to fund acquiring a replacement fire ladder truck and making AFD facility improvements and related capital improvements in the Anchorage Fire Service Area.

Proposition 8 was defeated by a vote of 48% in favor to 52% against. The measure would have authorized the city to issue $3.9 million in bonds to fund acquiring new APD replacement fleet vehicles and related capital improvements in the Anchorage Metropolitan Police Service Area.

Proposition 9 was approved with 55% of the vote. The measure authorized the city to annex select areas in the Blue Beary Estates Subdivision to the Bear Valley Limited Road Service Area.

Proposition 10 was approved with 66% of the vote. It was designed to de-annex Alpine Terrace Subdivision Block 2, Lot 6 from the Upper O’Malley Limited Road Service Area.

Proposition 11 was approved with 57% of the vote. The measure de-annexes Creekview Estates Subdivision, Lots 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 from the South Goldenview Rural Road Service Area.

Between 2017 and 2020, there were 29 bond issues on the ballot in Anchorage. Of those, 26 were approved.



Anchorage mayoral race remains undecided

Preliminary results from Anchorage’s April 6 mayoral election show Dave Bronson and Forrest Dunbar in the lead. As of 4:30 p.m. Alaska Time on April 7, Dunbar had 33% of the vote and Bronson had 32%. A candidate needs 45% of the vote to win election as mayor. If no candidate receives 45% of the vote, the top two finishers will advance to a May 11 runoff.

The city will continue to accept mail-in ballots from local voters through April 16 and from overseas voters through April 20, although only ballots postmarked by April 6 will be accepted. Deputy Municipal Clerk Erika McConnell said that it will take time to process the large volume of ballots.  

Fifteen candidates were on the ballot. Media attention focused on six: Bronson,  Dunbar, Bill Evans, Bill Falsey, George Martinez, and Mike Robbins. These candidates also led in endorsements and fundraising. Anna Anthony, Jeffrey T. Brown, Darin Colbry, Heather Herndon, Jacob Kern, Reza Momin, Albert Swank Jr., Jacob Versteeg, and Joe Westfall also ran.

Economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic was a central issue in the race. Dunbar and Falsey said they support maintaining safety measures enacted by the Anchorage Assembly, such as a mask mandate and business restrictions, while Bronson, Evans, and Robbins said they supported reconsidering or removing restrictions. Homelessness and crime were also topics of debate, with candidates divided over homelessness prevention methods as well as shelter funding and locations.

Austin Quinn-Davidson, the current mayor, did not run for a full term. Quinn-Davidson became acting mayor after Ethan Berkowitz (D) resigned from office on October 23, 2020, due to what he described as “unacceptable personal conduct that has compromised my ability to perform my duties with the focus and trust that is required.”

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Mayoral election in Anchorage, Alaska to be held April 6

The city of Anchorage, Alaska, is holding a nonpartisan general election for mayor on April 6. Fourteen candidates are running. Media attention has been focused on six candidates: David Bronson, Forrest Dunbar, Bill Evans, Bill Falsey, George Martinez, and Mike Robbins. These candidates also lead in endorsements and fundraising. Heather Herndon, Jacob Versteeg, Joe Westfall, Albert Swank, Reza Momin, Anna Anthony, Darin Colbry, and Jacob Seth Kern are also running.

Incumbent Ethan Berkowitz (D) resigned from office on Oct. 23, 2020, due to what he said was “unacceptable personal conduct that has compromised my ability to perform my duties with the focus and trust that is required.” The Anchorage Assembly selected Austin Quinn-Davidson to serve as acting mayor.

Economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is a central issue in the race. Dunbar and Falsey said they support maintaining safety measures enacted by the Anchorage Assembly, such as a mask mandate and business restrictions, while Bronson, Evans, and Robbins said that they support reconsidering or removing restrictions. Homelessness and crime is also a key topic, with candidates divided over shelter funding and locations and prevention methods.

To be elected mayor, a candidate needs to win at least 45% of the vote. If no candidate wins 45% of the vote on April 6, the two candidates with the most votes will compete in a runoff election held on May 11.

The city government of Anchorage combines a council-manager system with a strong mayor system. The city council serves as the city’s primary legislative body and the mayor serves as the chief executive of the city. The mayor is responsible for proposing a budget, signing legislation into law, appointing departmental directors, and overseeing the city’s day-to-day operations. The mayor also represents the city on the state, national and international levels.

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Who funded the campaigns for and against ranked-choice voting ballot measures in 2020?

Voters in Alaska and Massachusetts decided statewide ranked-choice voting ballot measures in 2020. Alaskans approved an initiated statute to replace partisan primaries with open top-four primaries and establish ranked-choice voting for general elections, including the presidential election. Voters in Massachusetts rejected an initiative to adopt ranked-choice voting statewide.  

The top-two donors to the campaigns behind the ballot initiatives were the non-profit organizations Action Now Initiative and Unite America. Action Now Initiative was a top donor to ranked-choice voting measures in previous years, such as Maine Question 5 (2016) and New York City Question 1 (2019). Unite America also contributed to campaigns in prior years but did not break into the lists of top-five largest donors. In 2020, Unite America was the largest donor to Alaskans for Better Elections and the third-largest donor to Voter Choice Massachusetts.

The Action Now Initiative provided $6.59 million to the statewide ranked-choice voting campaigns in 2020, including $2.93 million in Alaska and $3.66 million in Massachusetts. John and Laura Arnold founded the Action Now Initiative as a 501(c)(4) organization in Huston, Texas, in 2011. Besides ranked-choice voting ballot measures, the Action Now Initiative has supported ballot initiatives related to redistricting commissions and criminal justice changes.

Unite America contributed $3.84 million to the ranked-choice voting campaigns in 2020, $3.40 million of which was donated to Alaskans for Better Actions. While Unite America provided $445,000 to Voters Choice Massachusetts, the organization’s board co-chair, Kathryn Murdoch, donated $2.50 million and board member Katherine Gehl contributed $250,000. Unite America, founded in 2014 as the Centrist Project, is based in Denver, Colorado, and has the stated purpose of electing officials and enacting electoral laws that reduce partisanship and achieve better governing outcomes. Unite America has a federal hybrid political action committee (PAC) and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Opponents of the two ballot measures did not have overlapping donors. In Massachusetts, an opposition PAC raised $8,475. In Alaska, opponents received $579,426, including $150,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national organization that seeks to elect down-ballot, state-level Republicans, and $50,000 from the Alaska Republican Party. 

In 2020, voters in five cities—two in California, two in Minnesota, and one in Colorado—also decided ranked-choice voting ballot measures. All five measures were approved.

The next scheduled vote on a ranked-choice voting ballot measure is March 2 in Burlington, Vermont. Former Gov. Howard Dean (D) and City Councilmember Zoraya Hightower (Vermont Progressive Party) are co-chairing the support campaign Better Ballot Burlington.

Committees registered to support or oppose all 129 statewide measures on the ballot in 2020 reported a combined total of $1.23 billion in contributions.

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