Ballot Measure 1 offers hope for broken system

Posted: Sunday, August 04, 2002

Preferential voting (also known as instant run-off voting or IRV) is on the ballot because the system is most definitely, obviously broken. Witness the dismal voter turnouts. The field of candidates is low, with many races uncontested. Voter apathy is at an all-time high. Instead of spending money on fancy voter advertising programs, maybe those involved should talk to the reluctant voters they are trying to woo.

While we have always had two major parties, we did not start two centuries ago with the Republicans and Democrats. The party system evolved, and the players changed over the years. Historically, how did this happen? New vibrant parties emerged. The established parties either adopted the bold, innovative ideas, or the third parties eventually replaced the established

parties as top dog. The Republicans were once themselves the new kid on the block at the time of Abraham Lincoln.

Unfortunately for the American political scene, the Republicans and Democrats have worked together to abrogate the process. They have set out many obstacles to discourage subsequent third party contenders to the throne. (In all fairness, there are many states that are even worse than Alaska in this respect.)

As a result, the top parties have become tired old parties -- much more interested in opinion polls than looking for new solutions. Their static nature has resulted in a loss of interest and a general feeling that the political arena is beyond the control of the individual voter.

The political arena should be a vibrant proving ground for new solutions, with Election Day as the final exam. Instant run-off voting can help to make that happen. With preferential voting, a voter can vote his conscience with his first vote, but still vote for the lesser of two evils with the second choice.

If you think that candidates would end up focusing their energy on being No. 2, you are correct. However, that is not a bad thing! The Republicans and Democrats will renew themselves, reinvent themselves by taking the best the third parties have to offer and incorporating it into their platforms.

Competition is a good thing, and this will put all the parties on a much more level playing field. A voter will no longer be penalized by voting for a candidate whose ideas are good but doesn't have a chance to win.

Currently, there is no accurate mechanism to judge the popularity of a new idea because the system is so skewed in favor of the major parties.

The beautiful thing about preferential voting is that you don't have to utilize the option. If you are a staunch Republican or Democrat you simply can make your candidate your No. 1 choice, just like before.

However, no matter how many candidates split up the vote, with preferential voting one candidate will eventually receive a majority of the votes -- a true mandate. Since most Alaska voters are not party animals, it is important that the winner be someone with more than a small percentage of the total vote.

It is true that Ballot Measure 1 will not address the races in which it would be most helpful -- namely borough races and the governor's race. However if we vote "Yes" to Ballot Measure 1, then local jurisdictions can subsequently adopt the practice. The Constitution can be amended to include the governor's election in its practice.

Preferential voting currently is being voted upon in several other states. We aren't inventing the wheel here in Alaska. Changing the system to preferential voting is an innovation we should adopt to give all the reluctant voters a reason to go to the polls.

For the reluctant voter who faithfully votes, even though his candidates never win this ballot measure is for you.

For the reluctant voter who stays home because his third party vote is gobbled up by the major parties -- this ballot measure is for you.

For the reluctant voter whose favorite ideas are never addressed by the candidates -- this ballot measure is for you.

For the reluctant voter who feels guilty when the greater of two evils wins -- this ballot measure is for you.

For the reluctant voter who has given up because things can never get better -- this ballot measure is for you.

Vicki Pate has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for 21 years -- mostly in Nikiski. As a dedicated proponent of the libertarian philosophy, she moderates introductory seminars on self-government. Hundreds have taken the "World's Smallest Political Quiz" at her booths at the Ninilchik Fair. Readers can e-mail her at

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