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July 28, 2002 Peninsula Clarion opposes preferential voting proposal

Posted: Monday, August 05, 2002

If the six-ballot primary isn't enough to disgust and discourage Alaska voters, then there's Ballot Measure No. 1, an initiative that seeks to change the election process for the Alaska Legislature, U.S. president and vice president, and U.S. senators and representatives from Alaska.

Instead of voting for the candidate of one's choice, voters would rank the candidates in order of preference.

The ballot explains the process this way: ''A candidate who receives a majority of first choice votes would be elected. If no candidate gets a majority vote, the candidate with fewest first choice votes is defeated. Then, remaining candidates receive the next choice votes of voters whose first choice candidate was defeated. The process continues until one candidate gets a majority of the combined votes. In a primary election, a voter may only rank candidates within one party.''

The process is called ''preferential voting'' or ''instant runoff voting'' or ''majority preference voting,'' and proponents make it sound like the best idea since sliced bread.

But, unlike Shakespeare's rose, by whatever name it's called, Ballot Measure No. 1 stinks and should be soundly defeated.

Before being taken in by the slick arguments of proponents of the measure, consider who is pushing the measure and why.

The statement supporting preferential voting included in the voter guide sent to Alaskans earlier this month comes from the Alaska Libertarian Party, the Alaskan Independence Party, the Green Party of Alaska, the Republican Moderate Party and the Republican Party of Alaska. It also includes the names of a Democrat and undeclared voter.

That's certainly impressive support, but it also makes for strange bedfellows. Does this lineup really have better government at the heart of its argument or more partisan politics? Do supporters really want voters to gain greater influence or do they want political parties -- specifically, their particular party -- to gain more power? Is better government or sour grapes the motivating factor?

Voters also need to examine if the measure does what proponents claim.

One claim is that preferential voting eliminates the need for a second runoff election and saves public dollars. Quick, when was the last time there was a runoff election for a legislative seat? Can't remember? That's because there hasn't been one. Under state law, tie votes are settled ''by lot'' -- not by expensive runoff elections. Candidates need only win by one vote, not 50 percent plus one vote.

Presidential elections are ultimately determined by the Electoral College. And close votes have not been a problem in Alaska's congressional races that needs fixing.

While runoff elections are a part of the city and borough elections, this measure does not address those. Municipalities could choose to adopt the system -- or not. In any case, runoffs are not an issue in the races this ballot measure targets, and, consequently, would not save the state money.

In fact, the opposite is true.

Changing the system would cost an estimated $1.8 million.

Proponents of the measure say preferential voting assures majority rule.

We're not sure how. It does, however, give more weight to the second choice of voters whose candidate finishes last among first choices. Why should those voters have more influence than those whose first choice didn't finish last?

That doesn't assure majority rule, but it does raise fundamental issues of fairness and it does open the door of opportunity for lots of manipulation.

Candidates could focus their energy on being No. 2 by courting the second-choice votes of third-party supporters and end up being No. 1. Voters could go through all sorts of machinations on the ballot in an attempt to defeat someone or elect someone else.

Does anyone think that will make government better?

Supporters of the measure say it would mean voters no longer would have to ''waste'' their vote on a candidate that doesn't have a chance of winning or splitting the vote and giving an election victory to their least preferred candidate.

Since when is any vote wasted? Shouldn't voters be voting their conscience? That means sometimes their candidate wins and sometimes their candidate loses, but they still get to cast their vote for the person who most closely matches their political ideology. Isn't that what the privilege to vote is about?

Opponents of the measure have correctly and clearly noted that preferential voting will not lead to greater voter satisfaction. How could it? Why would voters feel better about a system in which the candidate getting the most first place votes does not win?

There's been no grass-roots movement of Alaskans saying the process by which we choose our elected officials is flawed. In fact, the system is working quite well.

It's simple and straightforward. A candidate either wins or loses. The ground rules are clear.

The system doesn't need changing. Alaskans should say ''no'' to Ballot Measure No. 1.

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