The Alaska State Capitol on April 22, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney)
The Beacon has a focus on informing Alaskans about their state government. Since our launch on May 11, the Beacon staff has written stories about the state’s new voting system and other elements of state government.
To mark Democracy Day, here’s a list of some of those stories:
- On the Beacon’s first day, James Brooks wrote about how to vote in the special primary in the election to replace Congressman Don Young. Follow-up stories looked at the start of in-person voting in that election, as well as the closing window to vote by mail.
- The voter registration deadline for the Aug. 16 primary and special general election passed in July. Alaskans have until Oct. 9 to register for the Nov. 8 general election.
- The Beacon also provided information on the day of the primary/special election on how to vote. Voters described what the experience of voting in the new system was like. And the new system also has brought new mechanics about how election winners are counted and announced.
- A requirement to sign and have a witness sign mail-in ballots led to a disproportionate number of mail-in ballots from rural Alaska being rejected.
- National research documented the varied turnout rates of Native American and Alaska Native voters, which also varied sharply across Alaska.
- A judge ruled that the state’s redistricting board gerrymandered the election map to benefit Republicans. The board then picked a new map.
- A federal court ruling ended the state’s campaign finance limits and the Legislature failed to enact new limits.
- At the same time, the state has newly effective requirements to publicly disclose so-called “dark money” donations.
- Another court case is challenging how the state’s voting system affects visually impaired Alaskans.
- The state’s new voting system has had some twists and turns along the way. That includes having only three candidates in the first “top four” general election, in the special election to replace Young. That was the result of Al Gross ending his candidacy after the deadline to be replaced on the ballot. A lawsuit to add Tara Sweeney to the ballot was unsuccessful. Beacon commentary writer Freddie Olin IV considered the consequences of Gross’ decision.
- Turnout was high in both Alaska’s special primary as well as the regular primary/special general election.
- A planned ballot measure for the state formally recognizing its 229 Alaska Native tribes was expected to increase Native voter turnout. But it was preempted by a law that required formal recognition, which means the question won’t be on the ballot.
- The Beacon published candidate questionnaires for every race on the ballot this year, including for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, governor and the state Senate and state House. Not all candidates answered the questions.
- There will be one ballot question this year: Will Alaskans choose to hold a state constitutional convention? Cost estimates for a convention range widely. Conservative groups are urging support for the measure.
- The new system meant that for some races, such as U.S. Senate, one of the biggest concrete consequences of the primary was determining who would finish fourth.
- The election system has been a focus after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. Alaska state Rep. David Eastman attended the protest before the riot and is seeing his candidacy challenged due to his membership in the Oath Keepers. Eastman has stayed on the ballot, and a judge found that the state Division of Elections must determine whether candidates are eligible.
- The next lieutenant governor could make changes to how elections are administered in Alaska. Only two candidates for the office weighed in on whether the 2020 presidential election was fair.
- Sarah Erkmann Ward considered how the primary acted as more of a public opinion poll this year in a commentary published by the Beacon. In fact, only one legislative candidate was eliminated. Until he wasn’t, as candidates dropped out after the primary.
- Alaska has a history of racial discrimination in voting. While its once-a-decade redistricting plan no longer must be pre-cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice, the department continues to keep an eye on elections in the state.
- The Beacon is working with other media organizations on engaging with Alaskans about what they want to know about the candidates ahead of the general election. Alaska Public Media’s Anne Hillman wrote about the effort in a commentary.
- Two rural Alaska communities never had polling places open on election day, while two others relied on absentee ballots.
- Perhaps the biggest Alaska political story of the year has been the election of Mary Peltola as the state’s sole member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Beacon’s coverage has included looking at the role of ranked choice voting in the election, including a chart that showed what candidates’ ranked choice preferences were.
- Gov. Mike Dunleavy is the focus of a campaign finance complaint alleging his campaign illegally coordinated with an independent expenditure group.
- As part of national nonprofit States Newsroom, the Beacon has also published stories about national issues affecting Alaskans, including stories by Kira Lerner on democracy, voting and elections.
As the Beacon marks Democracy Day, its staff looks forward to continuing to cover how Alaska’s election system works and how Alaskans can engage with it.
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