Parties with at least 5,000 Registered Voters Will be Officially Recognized
ANCHORAGE – Senate Bill 161, sponsored by Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage), became law yesterday after Governor Mike Dunleavy declined to sign or veto the bill. Senate Bill 161 creates a new and simple criterion for the state to recognize political parties. For future election cycles, the Division of Elections will now automatically recognize parties with at least 5,000 registered voters. Currently, political parties gain or maintain official recognition by having registered voters equal to at least three percent of the total votes cast for governor, U.S. Senate, or U.S. House in the last election, depending on which office was on the ballot that year. The new registered voter threshold will be adjusted every ten years based on census data.
With the passage of Ballot Measure 2 in 2020, which created Alaska’s new primary and ranked-choice voting system, official party status will no longer be used to determine ballot access except for the president and vice president. Senate Bill 161 is expected to save the Division of Elections the time and expense of reviewing presidential petitions since parties with fewer than 5,000 registered voters routinely secure ballot access by petition.
“Alaska has a long history of diverse viewpoints and traditions within the political sphere. Simplifying the process for political parties to be and stay recognized allows similar viewpoints to come together as a group to showcase their beliefs,” said Sen. Wielechowski. “Our old system of calculating political parties varied significantly based on any prior year’s election turnout. Now voters and parties will have that consistency and expectation of party recognition moving forward.”
Currently, the Democratic, Republican, and Alaska Independence Parties are the only officially recognized parties. Under SB 161, the Alaska Libertarian Party with 6,922 registered Alaska voters would also have official status.
Recognized political parties have the right to purchase two pages in the Official Election Pamphlet which is mailed to all registered voters, to nominate poll workers and election board members, and to have observers present at polling places and counting centers. In addition, there are different campaign finance limits and reporting requirements for recognized and unrecognized parties. By providing a consistent threshold for the state to recognize parties, they will be able to strategically plan for years out, not just one election cycle with an unknown future.
Senate Bill 161 passed the Senate unanimously and by a vote of 37 – 2 in the House. The legislation takes effect on January 1, 2023 and will be in place for the 2024 election cycle.