Let a majority of voters pick the governor

Posted: Wednesday, April 19, 2000

Should the chief elected executive officer in the state of Alaska be chosen by at least half of the voters who cast ballots? We think so, and there's a bill moving through the Legislature that would require the governor and lieutenant governor to get at least 50 percent of the vote in order to win office.

Currently, candidates for both offices need merely win a plurality of the vote - not necessarily half. In other words, our chief executive could actually live in the governor's mansion by garnering only 30 or 40 percent of the vote.

That's happened in the past. Gov. Tony Knowles won 42 percent of the vote when he took office in 1994. Likewise, former Gov. Walter J. Hickel won with just 39 percent of the vote in 1990.

In fact, only twice have governors won with more than half the vote - Gov. Knowles in 1998 and Bill Egan in 1970. We don't think that's right. We see it as important that our chief executive be chose by at least half the voters.

As with any legislation, there are some concerns that should be addressed. One sticking point is that under the current proposal, if there's a runoff the winner wouldn't take office until the third Monday in February - more than a month after the Legislature convenes. That won't work. It doesn't make sense to have the Legislature convene and not have the new governor sitting.

And there are some concerns about how the bill would impact smaller political parties. Third parties are well-known for taking votes away from the two major parties, and that in turn makes it difficult for candidates to gather 50 percent. But that's part of the political process and it would require the successful candidate to appeal to enough voters.

Despite this, we think it's in the best interest of the state that its chief representative be selected by at least half the voters. We support Senate Joint Resolution 40. If passed, a constitutional amendment would go before voters - and to pass, it needs 50 percent plus one vote. If it takes at least half to pass a bill or amendment, shouldn't our governor be chosen the same way?

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