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Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Measure 1 gives voters more choices
Chip Wagoner and Jim Sykes
August 21, 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 our current election methods undermine this most basic instinct of Alaskans for political choice. Now that more candidates are competing for the same office, we continue to use an electoral method where candidates can win with smaller and smaller minority percentages. Not only that, but under our current electoral system 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. Measure 1 will give voters more choices and liberate voters to vote for the candidates they really like, and guarantee that elected officials will be supported by a popular majority. It also will allow big tax savings.

Measure 1 will adopt a voting method called instant run-off voting. IRV works like the regular run-off 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 our 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.

Measure 1 will make more voters and their votes count. With IRV, we will be able to vote for candidates we truly prefer without "wasting" our vote, or worrying about "spoiler candidates." It will empower voters to express their true political preferences.

Measure 1 will eliminate the current problem where 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 the people preferred another candidate.

"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 run-off elections a lot of tax dollars. Run-off elections are expensive and a headache for voters, candidates, and administrators. Anchorage's last run-off election had only a 7 percent voter turnout and cost over $100,000. Fairbanks also spends thousands of dollars on run-off elections. Measure 1 would give cities an option of using instant run-off voting instead of a traditional two-round run-off. The important goal of electing winners with a popular majority can be achieved in one election, instead of two--by using instant run-off voting.

Ballot Measure 1 has the support of a broad cross-section of Alaskans--liberals, conservatives, moderates, and political parties from across the political spectrum. Millions of voters in other places have used instant run-off 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 run-off voting have endorsed it. IRV has been repeatedly tested for fairness and is widely recognized as a well-tested and 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. They are saying things like it's "too complicated and too expensive," or its "unfair" and "illegal." But all of these claims are false.

Courts consistently have upheld instant run-off 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 run-off 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 our Alaskan republic. Please vote yes on Ballot Measure 1. For more information, visit www.alaskansforvotersrights.com.

Chip Wagoner is an attorney and former national committeeman for the Republican Party of Alaska. Jim Sykes is a long-time advocate for citizen and consumer rights and a founder of the Green Party.


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