IRV to Appear on Ballot in Alaska

Petition submitted for instant runoff
By Mary Pemberton
The Associated Press (Alaska)
October 27, 2000

Thousands of petition signatures were delivered Thursday to the state Division of Elections for an initiative to create an instant runoff system in Alaska.

Petition organizers delivered about 35,000 signatures to state officials, well above the minimum needed to put the issue to voters in 2002, said organizer Mark Chryson, chairman of the Alaskan Independence Party.

An instant runoff system would require that a winning candidate for a state office receive more than half the votes. Under the current system, the candidate with the most votes wins, even if the total is less than 50 percent.

Instant runoff systems also allow multiple choices on ballots. In races with more than two candidates, voters rank as many candidates as they want. If a voter's first choice finishes in last place and no candidate receives more than half the votes, that vote is transferred to the voter's second choice. Last-place candidates are eliminated and votes redistributed until one candidate receives more than 50 percent.

"Right now people are afraid to vote for anybody other than the Republican and the Democrat," Chryson said. "This is to show you that you will not be throwing your vote away."

An instant runoff system would give voters more candidate choices and eliminate the need for primaries and costly runoff elections, said Ken Jacobus, a Republican and a petition organizer.

Jacobus said Democrats win some Alaska elections by default because the conservative vote is split. That happened in 1990, he said, when Tony Knowles was elected governor with 42 percent of the vote after Alaskan Independence Party candidate Jack Coghill received nearly 28,000 votes, mostly from conservatives.

The initiative, however, wouldn't apply to the governor's race, said petition organizer Jim Sykes. Alaska's constitution mandates that the candidate receiving the greatest number of votes becomes governor, and that the governor and lieutenant governor run as a team. The state constitution can't be amended by initiative.

Municipalities could choose whether to use the system, he said.

Sykes, who supports Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, said voters are fed up with the exclusionary tactics of the Democrats and Republicans who succeeded in keeping Nader out of the presidential debates.

"That is what America is all about theoretically, having an open mind and listening to the debates," Sykes said. "If the Democrats and Republicans don't get their act together, I think we will eventually replace them."