While Americans these days are divided about many things, there can be no dispute — nor has there ever been — about the critical importance of voting in our democracy. Ronald Reagan called it “the most sacred right of free men and women” in his 1981 statement urging extension of the Voting Rights Act. And John F. Kennedy, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, noted while “not everyone can serve in our armed forces, there is one way you can indicate your devotion to freedom — by voting.” But before a citizen can vote, he or she must be registered to vote.
In Alaska, failure to register means every year tens of thousands of Alaskans — estimates range from about 45,000 to over 70,000 — are unable to exercise this “most sacred right of free men and women.” Is there a way to make voter registration simpler, less costly, and more available to all Alaskans? There is, and in the next two months Alaskans can take an important step toward making this happen.
Until the start of the next legislative session, Alaskans can sign a petition to put the “PFD Voter Initiative”on the next ballot. This a provision would allow every Alaskan applying for a Permanent Fund dividend to become registered to vote simply applying for the dividend. If this initiative becomes law, it would be unnecessary for a citizen desiring to register to vote to obtain a paper application, fill it out, and send it physically to the state Division of Elections. The citizen would be able to allow the information contained in his or her PFD application to be forwarded to the Division of Elections and serve as the basis for voter registration. Given the efficiencies inherent in a system that uses one list rather than two, the PFD Voter Initiative will save the state substantial funds once the new system is in place.