by Brian Washington
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In an election cycle where Democrats and Republicans are finding very little common ground, a ballot measure proposal in Alaska is getting bipartisan support and turning political rivals into allies.
The ballot measure is known as the PFD automatic voter registration, or Question 1. PFD stands for Alaska’s Permanent Fund dividend, which provides those, including children, who have been a state resident for at least one calendar year, a yearly dividend for oil from the state’s North Slope.
If the ballot measure is approved, PFD checks would be linked to voter registration. Anyone who applies for the PFD and is eligible to vote in the state would be registered automatically by the Division of Elections, unless they opt out.
PFD voter registration has the backing of a wide range of groups, including NEA-Alaska, which represents more than 12,000 educators throughout the state. Brinna Wojtalewicz, a middle school special education teacher and president of the organization’s Anchorage local, says the ballot measure will help the families of students who are most likely to face barriers to voter registration.
The Anchorage School District is one of the most diverse in the nation. Our students speak more than 90 different languages, including a large population of Alaska Native students. We have a significant number of military families. Many of our students come from low-income families—there are 21 Title I elementary schools in Anchorage. Many of our students’ families change addresses from one school year to the next, and they don’t always update their voter registration. Automatic PFD voter registration will ensure that every family in Alaska has a voice at the ballot box regardless of their zip code, so that more Alaskans can vote for measures and candidates that support great public schools for every student in Alaska.
Other groups supporting the ballot initiative include BP, the oil company, the Alaska branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, various labor organizations, Alaska native corporations and organizations, and Alaska Conservation Voters. It also has bipartisan support from Alaska’s elected leaders, including its two Republican U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (see video below).
A recent campaign ad touting the ballot measure’s widespread support has been the subject of news headlines.
One of the co-chairs of the PFD voter registration initiative, John-Henry Heckendorn, believes the ballot measure is the answer to preventing people from getting turned away at the polls.
“That happened to eight guys on my soccer team,” said Heckendorn to a local newspaper. “I think there are multi-cycle consequences when someone shows up and is told, ‘Sorry, you can’t participate.’ It just leaves a bad taste in people’s mouth.”