By BECKY BOHRER
Gov. Sean Parnell introduced legislation Wednesday that would move up Alaska's primary to give election officials more time to get ballots to military and overseas voters.
The measure, SB44 in the Senate and HB104 in the House, also changes the timeline for things like getting a name removed from a primary ballot. It would address certain elements of the absentee voting process and would allow someone living outside the U.S. to register to vote absentee if his or her parent or guardian was a permanent resident of the state immediately before leaving. Parnell said the latter provision is aimed at voters who turn 18 while living abroad with parents or guardians.
Parnell, in his transmittal letter, said the "good government changes" the bill would make are "necessary to assure voter access to his or her ballot, and to maximize efficiency in conducting State-run elections while harmonizing certain provisions of State and federal election law."
The state, in a review of its handling of the hotly contested 2010 U.S. Senate race, recommended a series of changes to improve the election process. Those included moving up the primary by two weeks in even-numbered years to ensure the state had sufficient time in the event of a contested primary to comply with a requirement that ballots are sent to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before a general election.
The only changes in law stemming from that review, released in 2011, revolved around the state's handling of write-in ballots, a point of contention in the 2010 race between U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller. Parnell's bill, introduced at the request of Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell's office, seeks to make the primary change, moving it from the fourth Tuesday of August to the second Tuesday in even-numbered years.
"We said one of the things we want to make sure we did is make it easier for members of the military to vote," Treadwell said.
Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said in an email that having the primary late in August "has always put the division up to the wire (following election certification, recounts completed and any court challenges resolved) to get official ballots printed and mailed to these voters for the general election."
Fenumiai said the division has managed to meet the deadline but said it's a "very tight timeframe."
"The division works very hard to get ballots mailed to these voters timely," she said. "With a candidate withdrawal deadline of 48 days prior to each election, that leaves the division with only 3 days to get ballots printed and mailed."
The bill would require that candidates who do not want to appear on the primary ballot provide notice of withdrawal at least 52 days before the primary, instead of 48 days. Deadlines would also change for judges up for retention to withdraw and for filling vacancies and nominating candidates by party petition.
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