Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), also known as preferential voting, is a method of voting that allows voters to rank up to five candidates in order of preference. Under this method, if no candidate receives a majority (50 percent plus 1), runoff rounds are conducted until one candidate receives a majority. In the first runoff round, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated and the candidates remaining advance to the next round. The process is continued until one candidate comes out on top with a majority. Voters can still show preference for fewer than five or just one candidate if they so choose.
Since all of the preferences selected by each voter are entered into a computerized tabulation system, the simple mathematical calculations for each round would happen very quickly.
U.S. presidential and Alaska statewide elections have been impacted greatly since 1990 due to the proliferation of political parties competing for voter support. The Jeffersonian ideal of majority rule is no longer the norm in our general elections.
In a recent Anchorage Daily News column, IRV advocates Jim Sykes and Ken Jacobus acknowledged this trend by observing, "Now that more candidates are competing for the same office, we continue to use an electoral method where candidates can win with smaller and 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."
In 1998, popular professional wrestler Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota with just 37 percent of the vote. Although his victory was a landmark achievement for a third-party candidate, 63 percent of Minnesota's voters opposed him. If IRV had been in place at the time it is quite likely the outcome of the Minnesota election would have been different.
Out of the 10 gubernatorial elections Alaska has had since statehood, only two have produced governors selected by majority.
Backers of IRV cite many advantages. IRV:
Increases voter turnout by giving voters more choices and confidence that a vote for their favorite candidate will not be wasted.
Eliminates spoilers - candidates with remote chances of winning who siphon votes from front runners.
Promotes positive, issue-based campaigns while serving as a deterrent to mudslinging tactics as candidates would be more reliant upon each other for pass-along support.
Preserves the one-person, one-vote principle.
Does not favor one party over another. IRV is politically neutral.
Costs far less than a separate runoff election. The estimated cost to launch the system statewide is $175. It costs $840,000 to conduct a statewide election, while runoff elections in Anchorage cost $100,000 each. Even if the cost will actually be much higher, as critics claim, IRV will still be cost-justified.
Eliminates the need for voters to return to the polls for runoffs. Traditionally voter participation falls off significantly for runoffs.
IRV would not be used to settle races for governor and lieutenant governor as those contests are constitutionally constrained in Alaska and decided by whoever gets the most votes.
Opponents of IRV include some mainstream Republicans, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, the League of Women Voters of Alaska and the Democratic Party. Critics of IRV say that the system is unnecessary, complicated and expensive.
The initiative to put Ballot Measure 1 in front of voters at next Tuesday's primary was signed by 40,000 Alaskans. A wide range of political parties supports the measure, including Green, Libertarian, Alaskan Independence, Republican and Republican Moderate parties.
IRV has been used for 70 years in Australia and recently has been adopted in Ireland. The system has been getting a test at some municipalities around the United States; however, to date there are no states using it.
Alaska is in an excellent position to be the first state to adopt IRV.
Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, who oversees the state Division of Elections, has transformed the state's election infrastructure into one of the most technologically advanced systems in the United States.