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Anchorage Daily News

Ballot Measure 1 restores choice
By Jim Sykes and Ken Jacobus
August 14, 2002

Elections in Alaska have changed significantly since 1990. There are now six political parties plus independent candidates. That's because we Alaskans value our independence and political choice.

Yet candidates can currently be elected without receiving a majority of votes. Now that more candidates are competing for the same office, candidates could win with smaller and smaller minority percentages. A vote for your favorite candidate actually can help elect your least favorite in multiple candidate races.

Voters will have the opportunity to change this on Aug. 27 with Ballot Measure 1, which gives voters more choices. It frees voters to select candidates they really like and guarantees that winners will be elected by a popular majority. It will also allow big savings of public dollars.

Measure 1 will adopt a voting method called instant runoff voting. IRV works like the runoffs now used in Anchorage and Fairbanks, but it doesn't require a second trip to the polls. People vote for their favorite candidate but also gain the option to indicate runoff choices at the same time. Voters do that by ranking candidates in order of their preference -- first, second and third. This way, if no candidate is the first choice of at least half of the voters, a runoff count can be conducted without the need for a costly second election.

IRV empowers voters to vote for candidates we truly prefer without "wasting" our vote or worrying about "spoiler" candidates. Measure 1 will eliminate the current problem in which a candidate strongly opposed by the majority can win. Since 1990, numerous candidates have been elected to municipal and state offices without majority support, sometimes with as little as 28 percent of the vote. That means 72 percent of voters preferred other candidates!

"Majority rule" is one of the foundations of our political system, taught to us when we are schoolchildren. Yet too often our current elections fail that test. By allowing voters to rank their candidates, Measure 1 assures majority rule in a single election.

Measure 1 also can save cities that currently use runoff elections a lot of public dollars. Runoff elections are expensive and a headache for voters, candidates and administrators. Anchorage's last runoff election had only a 7 percent voter turnout and cost more than $100,000. The important goal of electing winners with a popular majority can be achieved in one election, instead of two -- by using instant runoff voting.

Ballot Measure 1 has the support of Alaskans and political parties from across the political spectrum -- Green, Libertarian, Alaska Independence, Republican and Republican Moderate. Millions of voters in other places have used instant runoff voting for decades. Utah Republicans use it to nominate congressional candidates. Louisiana uses it for military overseas ballots.

From Washington to Vermont, state Leagues of Women Voters that have thoroughly studied instant runoff voting have endorsed it. IRV has been repeatedly tested for fairness and is recognized as a significant improvement in voting.

So who could be against this "good government" improvement? The main opposition comes from political insiders who know how to manipulate the existing system. They don't like "majority rule," and have employed the usual scare tactics to confuse people with claims like "too complicated and too expensive," or it's "unfair" and "illegal." But all of these claims are false.

Courts have consistently upheld instant runoff voting because it complies with the "one person, one vote" principle and all federal and constitutional requirements. And it's not too complicated. Australians have been using instant runoff voting for 70 years, as have various universities and schools to elect class officers. If Australians and schoolchildren can handle it, Alaskans should do just fine. Ranking your favorite candidates is no more difficult than ranking your favorite movies or sports teams.

Forty thousand Alaskans signed the petition to bring this important improvement to the Alaska democracy. Please vote YES on Ballot Measure 1. For more information visit: www.alaskansforvotersrights.com .  

Jim Sykes is a longtime advocate for citizen and consumer rights and a founder of the Green Party of Alaska. Ken Jacobus is an attorney who represents the Republican Party of Alaska.


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