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
SECOND CHOICES COUNT
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.
DEBATING THE NADER EFFECT
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
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.