Instant runoff garners backers

More than 35,000 signed petition for ballot initiative in 2002

Posted: Friday, October 27, 2000

ANCHORAGE - Thousands of petition signatures were delivered Thursday to the Division of Elections in an initiative that could result in an instant -runoff system for most state offices in Alaska, though not the governor and lieutenant governor.

Petition organizers delivered about 35,000 signatures to state officials, well above the minimum needed to put the issue to the voters in 2002, said organizer Mark Chryson, chairman of the Alaskan Independence Party.

An instant runoff system would require that a winning candidate receive more than half the votes. Under the current system, the candidate with the most votes wins, even if the total is less than 50 percent.

"Right now people are afraid to vote for anybody other than the Republican and the Democrat," Chryson said. "This is to show you that you will not be throwing your vote away."

Instant runoff systems allow multiple choices on ballots.

In races with more than two candidates, voters rank as many candidates as they want. If a voter's first choice finishes in last place, and no candidate receives more than half of the votes, the last place candidate's votes are transferred to those voters' second choices. Last place candidates are eliminated and votes are redistributed until one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

An instant runoff system would give voters more candidate choices and eliminate the need for primaries and costly runoff elections, said Ken Jacobus, a Republican leader and petition organizer.

"It makes sure that everyone who gets elected has a majority of the voter support," he said.

Chryson said he expects Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, who oversees elections, will have to certify the signatures. If the Legislature does not enact a law putting the instant runoff system in place, the initiative will be on the 2002 ballot, he said.

Jacobus said Democrats now win some Alaska elections by default because the conservative vote is split. That happened in 1994, he said, when Tony Knowles was elected governor with 42 percent of the vote after Alaskan Independence Party candidate Jack Coghill received nearly 28,000 mostly conservative votes.

"It will help the general process," Jacobus said. "It makes sure everyone who gets elected has a majority of voter support."

The initiative, however, wouldn't apply to the governor's race, said petition organizer Jim Sykes, a former Green Party candidate for governor. Alaska's constitution mandates that the candidate receiving the greatest number of votes becomes governor, and that the governor and lieutenant governor run as a team. The state constitution can't be amended by initiative.

Municipalities could choose whether to use the system, he said.

Sykes said an instant voting system will help in situations where a non-major party candidate has support but voters fear throwing their votes away if they go with their first choice.

Voters want more choices, Sykes said. They're fed up with the exclusionary tactics of the Democrats and Republicans who succeeded in keeping the Green Party candidate from the presidential debates, he said.

"That is what America is all about theoretically, having an open mind and listening to the debates," Sykes said. "If the Democrats and Republicans don't get their act together, I think we will eventually replace them."

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