Will Dunleavy Side with Trump or Democracy?
By Hal Shepherd
Despite numerous state-level investigations and lawsuits finding no evidence of such a claim, ever since the 2020 presidential campaign, former President Donald Trump has claimed that he lost that election due to wide-spread election fraud. It was this delusion that lead to the deadly attack on the Nation’s Capital followed by the perpetuation of Trump’s “Big-Lie” by right-wing politicians as an excuse to ensure that, this time, their candidates get elected in the upcoming 2022 congressional and 2024 presidential elections. Shortly, after the January 6 insurrection, for example, Republican officials in multiple states cited concerns about election fraud so that they could pass laws allowing them to overturn local election results and restrict voting rights.
Of all the actions that ultra-right politicians are applying to dismantle voting rights, efforts to control election administration are the main strategies for ensuring that future elected officials do not represent the will of the people. One such effort is the appointment of state election boards or commissions or election officials who are sympathetic to false claims of voter fraud and willing to use their position to undermine confidence in election results, create new voting regulations or interpret election rules to partisan advantage.
As for Alaska’s part in the election fraud scam, in part, for Governor Dunleavy’s active support of Trump’s frivolous litigation to overturn the 2020 election results, Trump has endorsed the Governor’s bid for re-election in 2022 but typical of Trump’s habitat of using threats to gain political allies, said he would do so only if Dunleavy does not endorse Sen. Lisa Murkowski who voted to impeach Trump after the insurrection and who is also up for re-election this year. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the Dunleavy administration has answered Trump’s call for the takeover of election administration, in part, through the time-honored GOP practice of gerrymandering under the guise of redistricting.
The state’s Redistricting Board, the majority of whom were appointed by Governor Dunleavy and former republican state Senator Cathy Giessel, for example, is attempting to give the Alaska republican party another senate seat by awkwardly, combining Eagle River with an East Anchorage district. According to right-wing Board member Bethany Marcum “This actually gives Eagle River the opportunity for more representation. They’re certainly not going to be disenfranchised by this process.”
The Board’s move is so unconstitutional, however, it has been challenged in court by the residents of the district who claim that “The Board’s intentional pairing of Eagle River districts with East Anchorage Districts favored one geographical area, community of interest, and political party over another despite overwhelming testimony from both communities detailing their lack of shared interests, goals, and commonalities… ”
Then there is Governor Dunleavy’s recent proposal to make sweeping changes to Alaska’s election system during the first 30 days of the recently initiated legislative session. As in the case of the other elected officials who falsely claim there was widespread election fraud in 2020, the bill would address the Governor’s “concerns” regarding the state’s voting structure, election security, and redistricting.
Even though Alaska’s absentee voting process already contains safeguards including requiring voters to write either their voter ID or social security number or date of birth on the ballot request form and have their signature witnessed, Dunleavy wants more restrictions on the process. This includes requiring that a signature on an absentee ballot match to one from that person already on file with the state and if the signatures don’t match based on the interpretation of election officials, the vote is rejected unless the voter immediately verifies the ballot. The proposal could, therefore, result in large numbers of absentee ballots being thrown out, especially because voters must verify ballots identified as questionable before the election and those whose mailed ballots arrive after Election Day would not have an opportunity to do so.
Similarly, the legislation would prohibit third-party groups from helping the elderly, the poor, or other voters who have difficulty with transportation, deliver a completed absentee ballot to a dropbox or mailbox. Finally, the insurrection is rearing its ugly head again in Dunleavy’s attempt to limit absentee balloting as illustrated by the simple fact thattypically, a larger percentage of Alaskan Democrats vote before Election Day and that absentee voters favored Democratic candidate Joe Biden by a 58-39 margin.
The Dunleavy administration proposal would flaunt the democratic process by reversing a ballot initiative previously approved by voters in which Alaskan residents who apply for the Permanent Fund dividend are automatically registered to vote or have their voter information updated. Instead, the bill would reverse the popular practice by requiring people who want to register to vote to opt in when applying for the PFD.
In addition, the state would more stringently examine and audit its list of registered voters, there would be new definitions of election fraud and illegal activity and new procedures for election observers. This also is typical of the ongoing strategy to limit voting rights in at least 14 other states with republican dominated legislatures, who, have passed laws that give themselves more power over the administration and certification of elections or impose criminal penalties on election officials. A move underway in Wisconsin, for example, would eliminate the bipartisan election commission, charge its members with felonies for engaging in activity that Republicans don’t like, and allow partisan politicians to assert full control of federal elections.
That Senate Republicans are on board with perpetuating Trumps’ Big Lie and are willing to do anything to ensure that right-wing candidates get elected in 2022 and 2024, is illustrated by their successful efforts to block national legislation designed to prevent conservative state politicians from limiting voters rights. This latest wave of obstructionist strategies that the Republican party has engaged in ever since President Biden took office, prompted a frustrated Biden to ask “the question . . . what are Republicans for? What are they for? It’s no accident they didn’t even bother to come up with a platform in 2020. They had no platform at their convention because they don’t stand for anything — except to stop us.”
Perhaps the worst thing about Dunleavy’s proposal to overhaul Alaska’s election process, is that it is an insult to the state’s elected officials and voters. The fact is, there is not really anything wrong with the state’s election process. Alaska’s election officials and workers have nothing but the utmost integrity. While voters have and should complain about who has been elected to office in the state, there have been relatively few complaints about the state’s election process ever since its inception…until now. At a time when the ultra-right is continuing to perpetuate the January 6, 2021 insurrection, as in the case of other states that are intimidating election boards and commissions for simply doing their job, Dunleavy’s “concerns” about the process is an affront to such officials and workers.
Fortunately, likely due to the public outcry regarding the descent of the Republican party into Authoritarianism, as of the printing of this article, some staunchly conservative political leaders are starting to pull up. GOP Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, for example, has effectively killed legislation proposed by right-wing legislators that would have given the legislature the ability to reject primary or general election results.
Hopefully, this drawing of the line by state political leadership to protect the Constitutional rights of all citizens is indeed a trend. If so, the question is will Governor Dunleavy join the movement to stand up for Democracy and ALL Alaskans or will he continue to side with a pathological, lying bully.