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Alaska Voters To Consider Constitutional Convention In November

One legislator estimates it would cost up to $20 million

Alaska Voters To Consider Constitutional Convention In November

Alaskan voters will again have the opportunity to vote on holding a state constitutional convention in a referendum placed on the ballot for the upcoming midterm election.

Since achieving statehood in 1959, the northernmost American state has considered holding a constitution on five different occasions. Each referendum has been rejected by voters in the state that calls itself "the last frontier." The referendum on a constitutional convention is a feature of the state's current constitution which mandates that the lieutenant governor must place the question on the ballot every ten years if a convention has not been called by other means during that time.

Republican state senator Gary Stevens, who chairs the senate rules committee, told the non-profit KTOO that he estimates a convention would cost taxpayers somewhere around $20 million. Stevens, who noted a large degree of confusion regarding how delegates would be chosen and distributed among the state's districts, authored a white paper to explain the estimates. According to his calculations, the convention itself may run for as long as 165 days and the cost estimates were evaluated based on the price tag of a typical legislative session.

Amendments to the state's constitution work in ways similar to federal amendments. If two-thirds of both legislative chambers vote in favor of placing an amendment referendum on the ballot and the majority of Alaskans support the change on election day, the amendment is implemented. Alternatively, a constitutional convention can be held to make changes. Either chamber of the legislature is allowed to call for a convention at any time, but a mandatory vote is held once per decade.

In 1970, a referendum on the constitutional issue was carried by voters but quickly struck down by the state's judicial branch, which ruled that the wording of the question was biased. Residents overwhelmingly voted to oppose the measure when the question was presented to voters during the next statewide election in 1972. Alaskans have opted to change their constitution on 28 prior occasions, but those changes have always been made through the legislative route.

Some proponents of the convention, encouraged by the Supreme Court's recent abortion ruling, hope to hold a convention to constitutionally enshrine prohibitions on abortion. Supporters of the convention, such as Republican state senator Mike Shower, think that Stevens has overestimated the cost by about $17 million.

"That's nothing. That's not even a drop in the bucket for what the state spends on anything they want to spend, and nobody is out there complaining about that. But when they oppose a constitutional convention, 'Oh my gosh, the cost is going to be astronomical. We're just going to break the bank.' It's fear-mongering," he said.

A non-partisan group that bills itself "Defend Our Constitution" has been vocally opposed to the possibility of a convention. The group, which critically cites the expected cost of the convention, has also argued that it could jeopardize the Alaska Permanent Fund, the public corporation that manages the state's natural resource revenue. The permanent fund disburses annual dividends to every resident of the state and this year's payment was $3,200 per person.

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