Alaska editorial: State's voters deserve more choice on ballot

Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2005

This editorial appeared in the April 13 Anchorage Daily News:

When is a political party large enough to deserve a regular spot on the state's election ballot? The Alaska Legislature is pondering that question, and - what a surprise - the answer may depend more on political considerations than on enlightened notions of democracy and voter choice.

In the Republican-run state House, the State Affairs Committee worked up criteria that give the Green Party a slot on the next statewide ballot while keeping the Libertarians off. (The measure is HB94.) Politically, that would help Republicans. Conventional wisdom is that the Green Party siphons votes from Democrats while Libertarians draw from those who are more likely to vote Republican.

The House Judiciary Committee took a more inclusive approach. It changed the standard so both the smaller parties would be on the ballot. (Numerically speaking, the change was subtle. Instead of requiring a party to get 3 percent in a statewide race, the Judiciary Committee dropped the threshold to 2 percent.)

There's no guarantee the more inclusive version will survive though to final passage. It is the product of a rare bipartisan amendment in committee. All too often in Juneau, power is wielded by partisans who think that what's best for their party is automatically what's best for Alaska.

It's a quirk of the American two-party system that the two major political parties get to decide the rules for letting smaller parties onto the ballot. There's no golden rule or magic formula that says whether 2 percent or 3 percent of the vote is the right threshold.

If there's a general principle at work here, rather than crass political considerations, it's that more choice for voters is better than less choice. Competition helps drive improvement in the marketplace, and it can do so in Alaska's politics as well.

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