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
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
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.