Ballot Measure 1 will make Alaskans' votes count more

Posted: Friday, August 23, 2002

Elections in Alaska have changed significantly since 1990. There are now six political parties plus independent candidates. That's because we Alaskans value our independence and political choice.

Yet our current election methods undermine this Alaskan instinct for political choice. We continue to use an electoral method where candidates can win with smaller minority percentages. Not only that, but under our current electoral system a vote for your favorite candidate actually can help elect your least favorite in multiple candidate races.

Voters will have the opportunity to change this Tuesday with Ballot Measure 1. Measure 1 will give voters more choices and liberate voters to vote for the candidates they really like and guarantee that elected officials will be supported by a popular majority. It also will allow big tax savings.

Measure 1 will adopt a voting method called instant runoff voting (IRV). IRV works like the regular runoffs now used in Anchorage, Fairbanks and elsewhere, but it doesn't require a second trip to the polls. People vote for their favorite candidate, but also gain the option to indicate runoff choices at the same time. Voters do that by ranking candidates in order of preference-- first, second and third. If no candidate is the first choice of at least half of the voters, a runoff count can be conducted without needing a costly second election.

Measure 1 empowers voters to vote for candidates we truly prefer without "wasting" our vote, to worrying about "spoiler candidates." IRV will eliminate the current problem where a candidate strongly opposed by the majority can win. Since 1990, numerous candidates have been elected to municipal and state offices without majority support, sometimes with as little as 28 percent of the vote. That means 72 percent of voters preferred another candidate!

"Majority rule" is one of the foundations of our political system, taught to us in school. Yet, too often, our current elections fail that test. But Measure 1 assures majority rule in a single election.

Measure 1 also can save cities that use runoff elections a lot of tax dollars. Runoff elections are expensive and a headache for voters, candidates, and administrators. Anchorage's last runoff election had only a 7 percent voter turnout and cost over $100,000. The important goal of electing winners and a popular majority can be achieved in one election, instead of two -- by using instant runoff voting.

Ballot Measure 1 has the support of a broad cross-section of Alaskans -- liberals, conservatives, moderates and political parties from across the political spectrum. Millions of voters in other places have used IRV for decades. Utah Republicans use it to nominate congressional candidates. Louisiana uses it for military overseas ballots.

So who could be against this "good government" improvement? The main opposition from political insiders who know how to manipulate the existing system. They don't like "majority rule" and have employed the usual scare tactics to confuse people. They are saying it's "too complicated," or it's "unfair" and "illegal." But all of these claims are false.

Courts consistently have upheld IRV because it complies with the "one person, one vote" principle and all federal and constitutional requirements. And it's not too complicated; it's being used in Utah, Louisiana, Massachusetts and elsewhere. Ranking our favorite candidates is no more difficult than ranking our favorite movies or sports teams.

Forty-thousand Alaskans signed the petition to bring this important improvement to Alaska. Please vote Yes on Ballot Measure 1. For more information visit: www.alaskans

Chip Wagoner is an attorney and former national committeeman for the Republican Party of Alaska. Jim Sykes is a longtime advocate for citizen and consumer rights and a founder of the Green Party.

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