Runoff proposal dies instantly

Initiative defeated 2-1 in primary

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2002

ANCHORAGE - Backers of instant runoff voting say they will try again after their ballot initiative lost by close to a 2-1 margin in Tuesday's election.

With about 90 percent of Alaska's 446 precincts reporting, 64 percent of voters had rejected the measure, also called preferential voting, which called for adopting a method of balloting used in few other elections nationwide.

"We're not discouraged," said initiative sponsor and Anchorage attorney Ken Jacobus. "I'm sure the idea will be resurrected in the future sometime. It's the right thing to do. We're just sorry Alaskans did not decide to be the leader on this."

Opponents said they were not surprised Alaskans rejected instant runoff voting by a wide margin.

Alaska League of Women Voters President Cheryl Jebe said preferential voting violates the principle of one person, one vote. She also said the measure was too confusing and too costly to implement.

"Alaskans are not ready to change their method of voting," Jebe said. "This would have been a drastic change, with consequences we can't even begin to fathom."

The initiative sought to make Alaska one of the few states with some sort of preferential voting system. Utah uses instant runoff elections for congressional candidates in primaries only. Louisiana's overseas ballots use the system for all races in primary and general elections.

The measure would have eliminated Alaska's plurality-vote elections, in which candidates with the highest vote win. In their place would be preferential voting for future federal and most state elections. Gubernatorial races would have been exempt because the Alaska Constitution specifies a plurality vote.

The instant runoff process, more common in local elections and overseas, would allow voters to list their top choices for an office in descending order. If no candidate received more than 50 percent of the first-choice vote, the lowest vote-getter would be defeated. Then the second choice votes of voters who picked the losing candidate would be added to the totals for the remaining candidates.

The process would continue until one candidate received more than 50 percent.

With 90 percent of precincts reporting this morning, 60,088 people voted against the instant runoff voting plan, while 33,938 voted for the measure, a 64-36 percentage split.

Jacobus said the initiative failed because the public didn't understand the concept.

"Basically, it would have brought a majority vote without expensive runoff elections at taxpayers' expense and it would allow minority parties to vote their conscience," Jacobus said.

Alaska has six recognized political parties and a long history of independent voters.

Besides the Alaskan Independence Party and Democrats and Republicans, the state recognizes Libertarians and the Green and Republican Moderate parties. The Republican, Green, AIP and Libertarian parties endorsed the preferential voting measure. Democrats opposed it and Republican Moderates took no official position.

Nearly 52 percent of the state's registered voters classify themselves as undeclared, nonpartisan or members of political parties other than the six recognized state parties, according to the Alaska Division of Elections. The state has 114,357 registered Republicans and 71,597 registered Democrats.

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