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Voters reject instant runoff system; Alaska election is rebuff to proponents of third parties
By Tom Curry
August 28, 2002

In a major setback for third-party advocates, Alaska voters Tuesday rejected a proposal for statewide instant runoff elections. Sixty-four percent of the states voters opposed the instant runoff system, which its advocates see as a crucial way for the Green Party and other alternative parties to become more competitive with the Democrats and Republicans. 

INSTANT RUNOFF balloting permits voters to rank candidates as their first choice, second choice, third choice and so on.


If a candidate won a majority (50 percent plus one), there would be no runoff. But if no candidate gained a majority, the instant runoff would be used to decide the winner.

In a three-person race, for example, the candidate with the least support would be eliminated and the second-choice votes of his supporters would be awarded to the top two finishers, depending on whom they had picked as their second choice.

According to its advocates, the procedure would free people to vote their conscience without worrying that they would end up helping a candidate they opposed.

It would allow people outside the two major parties to build and grow without spoiling the election, said Eric Olson, deputy director of the Center for Voting and Democracy, a non-profit group that lobbies for instant runoff voting.

For example, under such a system, in the 2000 election, people who voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader could have designated Democrat Al Gore as their second choice and could have helped push Gore to victory in states that he lost, such as New Hampshire and Florida.

As it was, some Nader supporters may have feared that a vote for him would only help elect Republican George W. Bush.


The question of whether Nader voters did in fact siphon votes from Gore and help elect Bush is still hotly debated by many Democrats even today, nearly two years after the election.

A lot of people wanted to vote for Nader and instead held their nose and voted for Gore, said Olson.

The Center for Voting and Democracy Web site features a simulation showing how Gore might have won Florida under an instant runoff procedure, even assuming that Nader had won 2 percent of the popular vote there, as he did.

Instant runoff voting is a reform that once people learn about, they support, Olson said.

Reacting to the Alaska results, he said, Maybe there was not enough education about instant runoff voting prior to this vote.

In March, San Francisco voters approved an instant runoff system for municipal elections, and it will be the only major jurisdiction in the United States to use the system. The first election to take place under the system will be in 2003.

The Vermont legislature has considered instant runoff proposals, and Olson voiced guarded optimism that the state might enact the system in the near future.

Also in Tuesdays balloting, Alaska voters selected two well-known politicos, Democratic Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer and Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski, to battle it out for governor.

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