Religious faith at odds over primary ballot

Posted: Wednesday, July 31, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Alaska's new closed primary system, which requires voters to chose a ballot from one of six political parties, has members of the Baha'i faith in a quandary.

The religion prohibits involvement in partisan politics but encourages its members to exercise their civic duty of voting.

But leaders of the faith say they don't know what to say to their 4,000 members in Alaska about a nonpartisan ballot measure on the Aug. 27 primary.

Members who want to vote on the measure must select a ballot from one of the state's six political parties to cast their vote.

The Baha'i of Alaska's spiritual assembly is scheduled to meet in Anchorage in less than two weeks to discuss the primary, said general secretary David Baumgartner.

The governing body plans to discuss how to convey guidance on the primary-election issue to Baha'i followers across the state, Baumgartner said.

The so-called ''preferential voting'' ballot measure would institute a system of instant runoff voting in which candidates are chosen in order of preference.

If no candidate gets a majority of the vote, the candidate receiving the fewest first-choice votes would be eliminated. Those who voted for that candidate would have their second-choice counted.

That would go on until a candidate receives a majority of the votes.

Baumgartner said voting is an important civic duty of Baha'i followers. An election process should allow them to vote in a way that does not require members to pick a party, he said.

Alaska law changed the state's previous blanket primary -- in which all candidates from all parties are listed on the same ballot -- following a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The Republican Party of Alaska had been a proponent of holding separate primaries for the state's six recognized political parties.

''I don't think anyone had contemplated this problem arising,'' said Randy Ruedrich, state Republican Party chairman.

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