E-Newsletter August 27, 2002

Released August 27, 2002

Re: Please forward this today to friends in Alaska!

This summer's most exciting campaign for electoral reform will be decided on Tuesday, when Alaskans will vote on whether to implement instant runoff voting for most of their major elections. Instant runoff voting gives voters more power as it lets voters rank candidates (1, 2, 3) instead of settling for one. It requires candidates in single-office elections to earn a majority of votes (50% + 1) rather than slip in with 35% or 40%. Finally, it makes it easy for voters to consider a range of candidates without worrying about whether their favorite candidate is "just a spoiler."

The campaign is going down to the wire. Supporters for Measure 1 come from across the political spectrum, but are facing slick mailings and ads from insiders who like the status quo -- the same types who spent more than $100,000 earlier this year in their failed effort to stop San Francisco from adopting instant runoff voting.

If you're not in Alaska, you obviously can't vote for Measure 1. But there's a great way you can help: Please forward this message to any Alaskans you know and urge them to vote yes on Measure 1 on Tuesday. Voter turnout is not expected to be particularly robust for this primary (as is all too common this year -- please see a report on primary turnout on the "what's new" section of our website), but this is an election where their vote can really count.

If everyone receiving tonight's update sent this message on average to five people they know in Alaska, that would reach far more than the number of votes advocates think it will take to win. I hope you can help--never under-estimate the power of grassroots energy for fair elections!

The two commentaries below provide a good set of arguments for why instant runoff voting makes sense -- both in Alaska and for so many other single-office elections around the country. The first is an editorial endorsing Measure One in today's Juneau Empire in Alaska's capital city. The second is a commentary from Australian political scientist Ben Reilly that appeared Saturday in the Anchorage Daily News.

There are other helpful resources, including:

The campaign website: Alaskans for Voters Rights has an excellent collection of resources about Measure One, and, yes, a means for you to support the campaign with an on-line donation. The campaign would put any last-minute help it can get to good use.

A powerpoint presentation by Vermont Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz.  Markowitz in July 2002 used this powerpoint in a well-received presentation at the national meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

As a reminder, the Center for Voting and Democracy is a non-profit based in Washington D.C. headed by former Congressman John B. Anderson. We are devoted to increasing public understanding of American politics and how to reform its rules to provide more competition, better choices and fairer representation. Our website has information on voting methods, redistricting and voter turnout, and you can get a great articulation of our views on how to reform politics in our west coast director Steven Hill's new book from Routledge Press called "Fixing Elections." We rely heavily on individual donations, so please consider a contribution by mail (6930 Carroll Avenue, Suite 610, Takoma Park MD 20910) or on-line at www.fairvote.org/donate.htm .  

We send out short updates about once a month that highlight one or two news development about voting system reform and findings from our reports on politics. If ever you would like to be off the distribution list, just let us know by replying with the word "remove" in the subject or body of your message.

On to the Alaska commentaries! And friends in Alaska-- please vote Yes on Ballot Measure 1 on Tuesday!

"Instant runoff voting pros outweigh cons"
Juneau Empire Editorial
Sunday, August 25, 2002

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.

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.

"Instant runoff ballots work, mates"
By Dr. Benjamin Reilly
Anchorage Daily News Commentary
August 24, 2002

Last week I visited Alaska and had a great time hiking and fishing -- and talking to Alaskans about Ballot Measure 1. Measure 1 would adopt an electoral system called instant runoff voting (IRV) that is intimately familiar to we Australians. We have used this system for over 80 years.

One reason for the popularity of this system is the power it gives to voters, who not only get to indicate who they like best, but also who they like least. They do this by ranking the candidates on their ballots, first, second, third and so on.

This makes your votes more influential in determining election outcomes. It means that those who favor several candidates or parties can make this clear on the ballot -- by using their rankings to show exactly how they feel. Equally, those who have a strong preference for only one candidate or party also can make this clear. Instant runoff voting may restore some of the choice that the Alaskans I spoke to felt they lost with the closing of your primary system.

Many questions came up about Measure 1 during my visit to Alaska. Allow me to clarify a few points.

First, the goal of instant runoff voting is simply this: to guarantee that elected officials have the support of more than a 50 percent majority of voters. I understand that Anchorage voters adopted a majority system a few years ago and use runoff elections for local offices. The goal of instant runoff voting is the same as these runoff elections: ensuring majority winners -- and to accomplish this goal in one election, rather than in two elections. It is a true majority system.

Instant runoff voting also addresses the problems of "vote splitting" that occurs under your current plurality voting method. This occurs when a majority of voters "split" their support between several popular candidates, allowing a less popular one to win. Remember the impact of Ross Perot at the 1992 presidential election? He split a large number of votes away from the other conservative candidate, George H.W. Bush. Under IRV, the winner is the true choice of the majority of voters, and split votes do not plague the results.

Some have raised a concern that IRV is too complicated. The experience of we Australians or voters in other places does not bear this out. Millions of voters in the United States and all over the world use IRV without difficulty or high numbers of spoiled ballots. If we Australians can handle ranked ballots, I'd be surprised if it were a problem for Alaskans.

Finally, to clarify one concern I heard in Alaska -- Instant Runoff Voting does not give some people more votes than others, as some commentators have claimed. It works much like the regular runoffs used in Anchorage. People vote for their favorite candidate, but also gain the option to rank your runoff choices at the same time. At each step of the runoff process, every voter has exactly one vote for either their first choice, or -- if their first choice is out of the race -- for their runoff choice. The system treats all voters exactly the same on this score. It is in full compliance with the principle of "one person, one vote," as various courts and federal agencies have ruled.

Some people also have raised a concern that it's possible for a third-place candidate to win in instant runoff voting. Yes, it's possible -- and highly unlikely. In Australia's 1996 national elections, out of 148 races none was won by a third-place candidate. Ninety-five percent of first-place candidates won their elections, and five percent of second-place candidates won their elections. But if a third-place candidate were to win, here's why -- because at the end of the day that candidate was preferred over the others by the majority.

May I take this opportunity to say good luck to everyone involved in your deliberations. I hope that these musings may be useful when making your choice on Ballot Measure 1 on Aug. 27.

(Dr. Benjamin Reilly is a political science professor at Australian National University and author of several books on electoral systems. While in Alaska, he caught his legal limit of two silvers silvers and saw a huge moose with an enormous rack. Crikey!)