measure could change way Alaska elects officials
July 19, 2002
When voters go to the polls
to choose a candidate during the primary election Aug. 27, they also
will vote on a ballot measure that totally would restructure the way
officials are elected.
Called "preferential voting" or "instant
runoff voting," the measure would allow voters to choose each
candidate on the ballot in order of preference.
If no candidate
receives more than 50 percent of the first-choice votes, then the
candidate with the fewest first-choice votes would be eliminated.
The eliminated candidate's second-choice votes then would be
distributed to the remaining candidates. This would continue until
one candidate receives a majority of the votes.
The change would
apply to all statewide elected officials except the governor and
The voting structure has been adopted by a few
municipalities across the country, most recently in San Francisco.
It also is used to elect the president of Ireland, members of the
House of Representative in Australia and the mayor of London. If the
measure is approved, Alaska would become the first state to use the
Restructuring the voting system is intended to guarantee
electing candidates through a majority of the vote, according to
Chip Wagoner, a Republican strategist who helped write the ballot
"People don't want an either-or choice," Wagoner said,
noting that Alaska was a two-party state in the 1950s but now has
In addition to the Democratic and Republican
parties, Alaska voters choose among candidates representing the
Alaskan Independence Party, Green Party, Libertarian Party and
Republican Moderate Party.
Wagoner characterized Alaska as a
conservative state where election dynamics have changed due to
third-party candidates siphoning votes from the Republican Party. He
said the new system of instant runoff voting would allow
conservative-minded voters to vote for third-party candidates
without feeling they wasted their vote on a candidate who is certain
"It should be a majority rule with protection of minority
rights, not a minority rule with protection of majority rights,"
The concept of instant runoff voting is not supported
by all Republicans, but the party did make the issue a top priority
at its 2000 state convention, Wagoner said.
Although the measure
would benefit Republicans, Wagoner said political climates change
and it eventually could benefit Democrats.
For instance, if Natives
in the state started their own political party, "then instant runoff
voting would help Democrats," Wagoner said.
Those who oppose the
measure say the current voting system works and that implementing a
new one would create confusion.
"In working on this issue I have
met so many people that are confused as to how the system would
work," said Sarah Lemagie, a coordinator for a group called Fair
Elections for Alaska, which opposes the measure. "It's making the
election process more complicated when it should be kept simple and
easy to understand."
Lemagie said the voting structure violates the
concept of one person, one vote, because a person whose candidate is
eliminated early in the election may have his or her vote counted
only once, while others could have theirs counted several times in
subsequent rounds of elimination.
Lemagie said voters who vote for
only one candidate also take the risk of having their vote
Wagoner said the concept of one person, one vote is not
violated because each person is given only one vote per round.
Elections for Alaska also asserts that instant runoff voting would
lead to longer ballots, longer lines at the polls and lower voter
But Wagoner said voter turnout would increase because the
elections would be more interesting, with smaller parties having a
better chance at capturing votes.
Cheryl Jebe, president of the
statewide chapter of the League of Women Voters, said the group
opposes adopting the new voting system.
"This has come too sudden,
too fast and with not enough discussion," Jebe said.
She said such
a change also would be costly.
In a League statement, Jebe notes
that in 1999, House Bill 141 by Rep. Pete Kott, an Eagle River
Republican, which intended to implement a system of instant runoff
voting, was estimated to cost $1.8 million.
That amount would pay
to train staff and reprogram ballot machines.
Wagoner argues that
the cost of reprogramming machines would be much less, and
instituting instant runoff voting ultimately would save the state
money by eliminating costly runoff elections.
"(T)he cost of a
single 'delayed' two-round runoff for local elections in Anchorage,
under the current law, is around $100,000. The cost of all such
delayed runoffs could be eliminated (with instant runoff voting),"
said a statement released by Wagoner. "Depending on how the state
chooses to implement the new voting system the cost could be
Timothy Inklebarger can be
reached at [email protected]