To: Friend of Fair Elections
Fr: Rob Richie, Executive Director
The Center for
Voting and Democracy
Re: Please forward this today to friends in Alaska!
This summer's most exciting campaign for
electoral reform will be decided on Tuesday, when Alaskans will vote
on whether to implement instant runoff voting for most of their
major elections. Instant runoff voting gives voters more power as it
lets voters rank candidates (1, 2, 3) instead of settling for one.
It requires candidates in single-office elections to earn a majority
of votes (50% + 1) rather than slip in with 35% or 40%. Finally, it
makes it easy for voters to consider a range of candidates without
worrying about whether their favorite candidate is "just a spoiler."
The campaign is going down to the wire. Supporters for Measure 1
come from across the political spectrum, but are facing slick
mailings and ads from insiders who like the status quo -- the same
types who spent more than $100,000 earlier this year in their failed
effort to stop San Francisco from adopting instant runoff voting.
If you're not in Alaska, you obviously can't vote for Measure 1.
But there's a great way you can help: Please forward this message to
any Alaskans you know and urge them to vote yes on Measure 1 on
Tuesday. Voter turnout is not expected to be particularly robust for
this primary (as is all too common this year -- please see a report
on primary turnout on the "what's new" section of our website), but
this is an election where their vote can really count.
If everyone receiving tonight's update sent this message on average
to five people they know in Alaska, that would reach far more
than the number of votes advocates think it will take to win. I hope
you can help--never under-estimate the power of grassroots energy for fair
The two commentaries below provide a good set of
arguments for why instant runoff voting makes sense -- both in
Alaska and for so many other single-office elections around the
country. The first is an editorial endorsing Measure One in today's
Juneau Empire in Alaska's capital city. The second is a commentary
from Australian political scientist Ben Reilly that appeared
Saturday in the Anchorage Daily News.
There are other helpful
The campaign website: Alaskans for Voters
excellent collection of resources about Measure One, and, yes, a
means for you to support the campaign with an on-line donation. The
campaign would put any last-minute help it can get to good use.
presentation by Vermont Secretary
of State Deborah Markowitz. Markowitz in July 2002 used
this powerpoint in a well-received presentation at the national
meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of
As a reminder, the Center for
Voting and Democracy is a non-profit based in Washington D.C. headed
by former Congressman John B. Anderson. We are devoted to increasing
public understanding of American politics and how to reform its
rules to provide more competition, better choices and fairer
representation. Our website has information
on voting methods, redistricting and voter turnout, and you can get
a great articulation of our views on how to reform politics in our
west coast director Steven Hill's new book from Routledge Press
called "Fixing Elections." We rely heavily on individual donations,
so please consider a contribution by mail (6930 Carroll Avenue,
Suite 610, Takoma Park MD 20910) or on-line at www.fairvote.org/donate.htm
We send out short updates
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On to the
Alaska commentaries! And friends in Alaska-- please vote Yes on Ballot Measure 1
"Instant runoff voting pros
Juneau Empire Editorial
Sunday, August 25, 2002
Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), also known as
preferential voting, is a method of voting that allows voters to
rank up to five candidates in order of preference. Under this
method, if no candidate receives a majority (50 percent plus 1),
runoff rounds are conducted until one candidate receives a majority.
In the first runoff round, the candidate with the fewest first-place
votes is eliminated and the candidates remaining advance to the next
round. The process is continued until one candidate comes out on top
with a majority. Voters can still show preference for fewer than
five or just one candidate if they so choose.
Since all of the
preferences selected by each voter are entered into a computerized
tabulation system, the simple mathematical calculations for each
round would happen very quickly.
U.S. presidential and Alaska
statewide elections have been impacted greatly since 1990 due to the
proliferation of political parties competing for voter support. The
Jeffersonian ideal of majority rule is no longer the norm in our
In a recent Anchorage Daily News column, IRV
advocates Jim Sykes and Ken Jacobus acknowledged this trend by
observing, "Now that more candidates are competing for the same
office, we continue to use an electoral method where candidates can
win with smaller and smaller minority percentages. Not only that,
but under our current electoral system a vote for your favorite
candidate actually can help elect your least favorite in multiple
In 1998, popular professional wrestler Jesse
Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota with just 37 percent of
the vote. Although his victory was a landmark achievement for a
third-party candidate, 63 percent of Minnesota's voters opposed him.
Out of the 10 gubernatorial elections Alaska has had since
statehood, only two have produced governors selected by majority.
Backers of IRV cite many advantages. IRV:
* Increases voter turnout
by giving voters more choices and confidence that a vote for their
favorite candidate will not be wasted.
* Eliminates spoilers -
candidates with remote chances of winning who siphon votes from
* Promotes positive, issue-based campaigns while
serving as a deterrent to mudslinging tactics as candidates would be
more reliant upon each other for pass-along support.
* Preserves the
one-person, one-vote principle.
* Does not favor one party over
another. IRV is politically neutral.
* Costs far less than a
separate runoff election. The estimated cost to launch the system
statewide is $175. It costs $840,000 to conduct a statewide
election, while runoff elections in Anchorage cost $100,000 each.
Even if the cost will actually be much higher, as critics claim, IRV
will still be cost-justified.
* Eliminates the need for voters to
return to the polls for runoffs. Traditionally voter participation
falls off significantly for runoffs.
IRV would not be used to
settle races for governor and lieutenant governor as those contests
are constitutionally constrained in Alaska and decided by whoever
gets the most votes.
Opponents of IRV include some mainstream
Republicans, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, the League of Women Voters of
Alaska and the Democratic Party. Critics of IRV say that the system
is unnecessary, complicated and expensive.
The initiative to put
Ballot Measure 1 in front of voters at next Tuesday's primary was
signed by 40,000 Alaskans. A wide range of political parties
supports the measure, including Green, Libertarian, Alaskan
Independence, Republican and Republican Moderate parties.
been used for 70 years in Australia and recently has been adopted in
Ireland. The system has been getting a test at some municipalities
around the United States; however, to date there are no states using
Alaska is in an excellent position to be the first state to
Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, who oversees
the state Division of Elections, has transformed the state's
election infrastructure into one of the most technologically
advanced systems in the United States.
"Instant runoff ballots work,
By Dr. Benjamin Reilly
Anchorage Daily News
August 24, 2002
Last week I visited Alaska and had a great time hiking and fishing
-- and talking to Alaskans about Ballot Measure 1. Measure 1 would
adopt an electoral system called instant runoff voting (IRV) that is
intimately familiar to we Australians. We have used this system for
over 80 years.
One reason for the popularity of this system is the
power it gives to voters, who not only get to indicate who they like
best, but also who they like least. They do this by ranking the
candidates on their ballots, first, second, third and so on.
makes your votes more influential in determining election outcomes.
It means that those who favor several candidates or parties can make
this clear on the ballot -- by using their rankings to show exactly
how they feel. Equally, those who have a strong preference for only
one candidate or party also can make this clear. Instant runoff
voting may restore some of the choice that the Alaskans I spoke to
felt they lost with the closing of your primary system.
questions came up about Measure 1 during my visit to Alaska. Allow
me to clarify a few points.
First, the goal of instant runoff
voting is simply this: to guarantee that elected officials have the
support of more than a 50 percent majority of voters. I understand
that Anchorage voters adopted a majority system a few years ago and
use runoff elections for local offices. The goal of instant runoff
voting is the same as these runoff elections: ensuring majority
winners -- and to accomplish this goal in one election, rather than
in two elections. It is a true majority system.
voting also addresses the problems of "vote splitting" that occurs
under your current plurality voting method. This occurs when a
majority of voters "split" their support between several popular
candidates, allowing a less popular one to win. Remember the impact
of Ross Perot at the 1992 presidential election? He split a large
number of votes away from the other conservative candidate, George
H.W. Bush. Under IRV, the winner is the true choice of the majority
of voters, and split votes do not plague the results.
raised a concern that IRV is too complicated. The experience of we
Australians or voters in other places does not bear this out.
Millions of voters in the United States and all over the world use
IRV without difficulty or high numbers of spoiled ballots. If we
Australians can handle ranked ballots, I'd be surprised if it were a
problem for Alaskans.
Finally, to clarify one concern I heard in
Alaska -- Instant Runoff Voting does not give some people more votes
than others, as some commentators have claimed. It works much like
the regular runoffs used in Anchorage. People vote for their
favorite candidate, but also gain the option to rank your runoff
choices at the same time. At each step of the runoff process, every
voter has exactly one vote for either their first choice, or -- if
their first choice is out of the race -- for their runoff choice.
The system treats all voters exactly the same on this score. It is
in full compliance with the principle of "one person, one vote," as
various courts and federal agencies have ruled.
Some people also
have raised a concern that it's possible for a third-place candidate
to win in instant runoff voting. Yes, it's possible -- and highly
unlikely. In Australia's 1996 national elections, out of 148 races
none was won by a third-place candidate. Ninety-five percent of
first-place candidates won their elections, and five percent of
second-place candidates won their elections. But if a third-place
candidate were to win, here's why -- because at the end of the day
that candidate was preferred over the others by the majority.
take this opportunity to say good luck to everyone involved in your
deliberations. I hope that these musings may be useful when making
your choice on Ballot Measure 1 on Aug. 27.
(Dr. Benjamin Reilly is
a political science professor at Australian National University and
author of several books on electoral systems. While in Alaska, he
caught his legal limit of two silvers silvers and saw a huge moose
with an enormous rack. Crikey!)
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