Initiative creates odd
By Gabriel Spitzer
July 22, 2002
coalition has sprung from the instant runoff voting initiative on
the Aug. 27 primary ballot.
Take Jim Sykes, for example, the Green
Party candidate for U.S. Senate. On a recent trip to the Delaney
Park Strip in downtown Anchorage, an acquaintance approached him.
"She simply said: 'Interesting company you're keeping these days.
Ken Jacobus?' " Sykes recalled.
Jacobus, a conservative Republican
attorney, is perhaps the last person Sykes could have imagined
working with -- until now. All four of Alaska's recognized minor
parties have joined the Alaska Republican Party in supporting Ballot
Measure 1, which would institute preferential or instant runoff
voting for all state and federal races, except governor and
It would work like this:
Instead of choosing
one candidate in each race, voters would rank the candidates in
order of preference. If no candidate had a majority of first-choice
votes after the ballots were counted, the candidate with the fewest
first-choice votes would be dropped.
Voters who picked the
eliminated candidate would then have their votes shifted to their
second choice. The votes would then be retabulated. The process
would be repeated until one candidate got a majority of votes.
Preferential voting is used in Ireland and Australia, among other
countries. Cambridge, Mass., has used a close cousin of instant
runoff voting since 1995, and San Francisco recently approved it for
local elections. No state currently uses instant runoff.
say it would restore majority rule, eliminate costly runoff
elections and generate more voter interest in the process.
parties like it because they think it would eliminate the "spoiler"
problem, when people fear that voting for a minor-party candidate
could help their least favorite candidate get elected.
going to be seeing a shocker in the next election," predicted Mark
Chryson, chairman of the Alaskan Independence Party and a sponsor of
the initiative. "You're going to actually see how much support the
AIP does have when people know they can rate their first choice."
Opponents, including the Democratic Party and the League of Women
Voters of Alaska, argue that instant runoff voting is expensive,
complicated and unnecessary.
"I'm deeply troubled by this," said
Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, whose office oversees the state Division of
"If the system isn't broken -- and as a matter of fact,
if the system is running smoothly, professionally and with a big
degree of confidence -- why do we want to change it?"
In state and
federal elections, the candidate with the most votes wins, majority
"Let's say someone wins by 40 percent," Ulmer said. "That's
how America generally does business. I'm not troubled by that. I'm
more troubled by somebody getting elected by putting percentages
The initiative would allow municipalities to opt into
the instant runoff voting process, saving them time and money,
Runoff elections in Anchorage cost about $100,000
apiece, according to the municipal clerk's office. In the six
runoffs since 1990, voter turnout has declined steadily from a high
of 50.9 percent in 1990 to just 7.2 percent in 2002.
Election Systems, which produces Alaska's Accuvote ballot machines,
said the state's hardware can handle the ranked ballots but would
require new computer chips. Replacing them would cost $216,800.
However, when the state Legislature briefly considered instant
runoff voting in 1999, it put the cost at about $1.9 million,
including the expenses of new ballots, voter education and poll
worker training. The figure also includes more than $1 million to
buy voting machines for the precincts that still hand-count ballots.
Opponents say this is too expensive, but they also contend that
instant runoff voting has deeper problems.
"Our main concern is
that preferential voting allows some voters to cast a vote for more
than one candidate, and it appears to compromise the principle of
one person, one vote," said Cheryl Jebe, president of the League of
Women Voters of Alaska.
Only voters whose first-choice candidate is
eliminated have their ballots counted again, she said.
this gives larger voice to supporters of the least popular
But instant runoff voting would be no different in this
respect from regular runoffs, said Steven Hill, western regional
director of the nonprofit Center for Voting and Democracy.
traditional runoff, Hill said, voters whose first-choice candidate
remains in the runoff will typically go out and vote for that
candidate again, while other voters have the opportunity to vote for
their second choice.
Supporters point to a study done in Vermont.
Presented to that state's Legislature in 1999, it found 90 percent
of students participating in mock elections using the system said
they wanted the state to adopt it. Forty-six percent said it would
make them more likely to vote, while just 1 percent said it would
make them less likely.
Reporter Gabriel Spitzer can
be reached at [email protected]
For more information on the
907-559-4IRV (4478) www.alaskansforvotersrights.com
Alaskans for Voters Rights
P.O. Box 93588
For more information on the no
No on 1: Fair Elections for Alaska
P.O. Box 101934