The new voting structure for Alaska primary elections, requiring voters to choose a ballot from one of six political parties, could leave as many as 4,000 followers of the Baha'i faith without a voice in the August election.
The Baha'i faith, which stresses equality, unity and an individual search for truth, prohibits involvement in partisan politics. There are about 200 Baha'i members in Juneau and 4,000 in Alaska, representatives of the faith said.
Besides party candidates, the Aug. 27 primary includes a ballot initiative.
Keith Hermann, spiritual assembly secretary for the Baha'i in Juneau, said if the purpose of the primary is to select candidates for general elections, then it is not in the interest of Baha'i members to vote in primaries.
But in the case of a ballot measure during a primary election, it would seem an injustice to exclude those who do not wish to participate in choosing a primary candidate, Hermann said.
The ballot measure would institute a system of instant runoff voting in which candidates are chosen in order of preference. The votes would be tallied in rounds. The candidate receiving the fewest first-choice votes in each round would be eliminated. That candidate's second-choice votes would then be distributed to the remaining candidates until one receives a majority.
"I think the important part from our perspective is that unity is a value to strive for," Hermann said. "Partisanship by definition is divisive, which is why we don't participate in political parties."
David Baumgartner, general secretary for the Baha'i faith in Alaska, said followers are encouraged to vote in elections.
"They are allowed to do so in the general election, where they are allowed to vote their conscience," he said.
Randy Ruedrich, chairman for the Republican Party of Alaska, has been an outspoken advocate of the six-ballot primary system, but acknowledged that ballot initiatives during a primary election could create problems for some voters not wanting to pick a party.
"I don't think anyone had contemplated this problem arising," Ruedrich said.
Although only a few of the ballot measures are voted on in primary elections, Ruedrich said having all of them on the general election ballot would be reasonable. Of the 31 ballot measures in Alaska since 1960, six were put before voters in primary elections.
Baumgartner said Baha'i followers are not Republicans, Democrats or of any other political party, but voting still is an important part of their civic duty.
When the election process allows them to vote in a way that does not require picking a party, Baumgartner said, it enables them to carry out their duties as citizens.
Baumgartner said the governing council of the Baha'i of Alaska, called the National Spiritual Assembly, is scheduled to meet in Anchorage in less than two weeks. There they will discuss how to convey guidance on the primary-election issue to Baha'i followers across the state.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.