Alaska Voters Mull Instant Runoff
By Mike Chambers
August 24, 2002
Voters get to decide this week whether Alaska will
become the first state with instant runoff elections, something
supports say would give third-party candidates a fighting a chance.
The initiative, appearing on Tuesday's gubernatorial
primary ballots, would replace Alaska's majority-vote [sic.
"plurality vote"] election with preferential voting similar to the
method used in San Francisco city elections and to elect Lord Mayor
of London and members of the Australian House.
Voters would pick their choices for an office in
descending order from most favored to least favored.
If no candidate received more than 50 percent of the
first-choice vote, then the lowest vote getter would be defeated.
Election officials then would count the second choice votes of
voters who picked the losing candidate and add those numbers to the
totals for the remaining candidates.
The process would continue until one candidate
received more than 50 percent.
"Right now, people are afraid to vote for anybody
other than the Republican and the Democrat," said Mark Chryson,
chairman of the Alaskan Independence Party. "This is to show you
that you will not be throwing your vote away."
The measure is opposed by the Alaska League of Women
Voters, in part because it has drawn so little public debate, said
league President Cheryl Jebe of Juneau. She said the measure will be
costly, confusing and complex.
"It appears to compromise the well-established
principle of one person, one vote, established by the United States
Supreme Court," she said. Alaska has six recognized political
parties and a long history of independent voters. Besides the
Alaskan Independence Party and Democrats and Republicans, the state
recognizes Libertarians and the Green and Republican Moderate
Alaska has never held an instant runoff election but
has had numerous elections in which the margin of victory was within
just a few percentage points.
Former Gov. Jay Hammond won his party's nomination in
1978 over Walter J. Hickel by 98 votes less than one vote per
precinct. Current House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz first won
election to an Anchorage House seat by 28 votes in 1996.
Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles ends two terms having
never won a majority of the popular vote. He was first elected in
1994 by just more than one vote per precinct over Republican Jim
Nearly 52 percent of the state's registered voters
classify themselves as undeclared, nonpartisan or members of
political parties other than the six recognized state parties,
according to the Alaska Division of Elections. The state has 114,357
registered Republicans and 71,597 registered Democrats.
The instant runoff would include state and federal
elections but exempt the race for governor and lieutenant governor,
where the Alaska Constitution requires that the winner collect only
most of the votes cast.
The system would give voters more candidate choices
and eliminate the need for primaries and costly runoff elections,
said Ken Jacobus, a Republican attorney and petition organizer.
"It makes sure that every one who gets elected has a
majority of the voter support," he said.