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Anchorage Press

The Lessor of Three Evils: Alaskans to Consider Instant Runoff Voting

by David A. Brensilver
March 1 - March 7, 2001

Alaska is poised to help pioneer election reform in this country. A 2002 ballot initiative in the state will allow voters to implement Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) as the standard by which local elections are decided. IRV is a voting system that requires a winner to receive a majority of votes and allows voters to rank their choices. If no candidate receives a majority, the candidate with the lowest vote tally is disqualified from the race. Those votes are then transferred to the second-choice candidate on each ballot.

The petition drive to have IRV included on the ballot was supported by a broad coalition that included the Green, Republican, Libratarian and Alaskan Independence parties.

"This is really going to show how much support the state's minor parties have," says Alaskan Independence Party chairman Mark Chryson. "We have six political parties in Alaska. It's conceivable someone could win an election with as little as 17 percent of the vote. This is designed to keep that from happening."

Had IRV been the national standard in 1992, for example, Ross Perot, who ended up receiving 19 percent of the vote, would have been eliminated from the race, with those ballots representing him as its first choice being transferred to their respective second choice's tally. As Clinton and Bush earned 43 percent and 37 percent of the vote respectively, the instant runoff would have continued until 50 percent was reached. While it can be speculated that those ranking Perot first would have listed Bush as their second choice, Clinton needed significantly less to reach the magic number, and therefore, only a small percentage of runoff votes from Perot's constituency would have put him over the top.

In Vermont, bills have been introduced in the state house that would adopt IRV as their statewide election standard. City and county measures have already been passed in California to adopt IRV. In Oakland, Santa Clara and San Leandro it will be used to elect members to city council. In Cambridge, Mass., a modified version of IRV is already standard procedure, used to elect members of the city council. Outside the United States, IRV is currently used to elect members of the Australian Parliament, president of the Republic of Ireland and the mayor of London.

In those places where IRV has been implemented there has been a decrease in the amount of negative campaigning as those on the election trail lobby for the votes of its opponents' constituents, as well as their own. Stumping candidates are forced to commit to a more detailed platform, as voters, without fear of throwing their vote away, more sincerely vote their conscience.

IRV is expected to become a major issue as election reform continues to be explored, its appeal being its inherent fairness and simplicity. IRV could, in a relatively short time, make its way onto the national stage. Soon, those Alaskans wanting to vote for a third party candidate may be able to do so without fear of throwing their vote away.

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