A panel of Alaskan speakers and national experts today discussed the importance of, and barriers to, equity and representation in our elections and how Ballot Measure 2’s election reforms can make an impact in a webinar hosted by the Yes on 2 for Better Elections campaign titled: Failing the Equity Test.
Watch “Failing the Equity Test” webinar on Facebook here, or see the video embed below. This webinar was recorded September 16 at 9:00 am.
According to Alaska Division of Elections, although 40% of Alaska’s population identifies as Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), they make up only about 16% of winning candidates. Alaskans deserve a government that fully reflects the diversity of experience and thought of its citizens. Ballot Measure 2 is a necessary tool to expand access to voting rights, increase participation in our elections, and ensure a more representative democracy.
Anna Keller, Executive Director of Maine League of Women Voters
Cynthia Richie Terrell,founder and Executive Director of RepresentWomen
Maria Perez, Principal Consultant of Democracy in Action
Joy Huntington, President, Uqaqti Consulting
Dorothy Shockley, President/CEO of Bean Ridge Corporation
Koyukon Athabascan mother and daughter Dorothy Shockley and Joy Huntington spoke about the challenges of running for office in a state as vast and diverse as Alaska, where the support of a political party can bring critical resources to offset campaign costs. Dorothy Shockley, President and CEO of Bean Ridge Corporation, was a state House and Senate candidate. She expressed feeling torn between running on her values and the chance of winning.
“I chose to run nonpartisan. I was really discouraged not to, but I just felt in my heart that I needed to because of the partisanship that I saw. We needed an independent voice, one that was not associated with the party but with the people,” Dorothy said.
Joy Huntington, President of Uqaqti Consulting and consultant for the Yes on 2 for Better elections campaign, emphasized that good policy depends on elected officials understanding the unique needs of the communities they represent.
“I think in Alaska there’s an urban/rural divide and it feels like you are on one side or the other, and sometimes it seems that one side has all of the voting power. Then you feel kind of disenfranchised. Also, the rural communities have other challenges: there’s not public safety readily available. If there’s an accident in the community, you have to call and get an airplane and it sometimes takes hours to have someone that could have critical injuries get the help that they need. They need voices and representation in Juneau that understand those challenges,” said Joy.
Panelists emphasized that systems reform is necessary in order to break through the barriers holding back women, people of color, young people, and other historically marginalized groups from getting involved in politics. In Alaska, non-Native BIPOC candidates face the worst of it: nearly 90% of candidates have lost every election they have run in.
“We have a super old election system, we inherited it from our colonial power 240 years ago. Part of the design of the system is to limit competition and protect incumbents,” said Cynthia Richie Terrell, Executive Director of RepresentWomen, an organization that aims to strengthen our democracy by ensuring more women can run, win, serve, and lead.
“When you have a system like that,” she continued, “it’s very hard for challengers to win. And when incumbents are mostly white and male and old, you can have a pipeline of a hundred million qualified women who’ve been ‘trained’ to run for office, but if you don’t have an institution that allows them to succeed when they run, then the barrier is going to continue.”
Anna Kellar, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Maine, who led the Maine Uses Ranked Choice Voting education effort for the first statewide RCV elections in 2018, highlighted the benefits of a system that encourages competition. She said, “Whereas before, if someone was not a mainstream party candidate, or was seen as not the candidate that the establishment within the party would run, they’d get a lot of backlash, and their supporters would get a lot of backlash for distracting from electability.”
Maria Perez, co-Director of Democracy Rising and national expert on Ranked Choice Voting, spoke about her experience helping to expand education among voters with FairVote New Mexico.
“When I talk to voters about ranked choice voting, when I talk to voters about systems of representation, it really is important and effective to lead from values. What do people care about? Maybe people care about the fact that their communities are falling apart and politicians have never done anything for them,” Maria said, emphasizing that more than anything that divides us, humans are united by our values.
Ballot Measure 2 would improve Alaska’s elections by creating a single unified primary ballot open to all voters, eliminating dark money in campaign financing, and instituting ranked choice voting in general elections. Together, these common-sense updates to Alaska’s elections will give voters more voice, more choice, and more power.