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IRV proposal defeated in Alaska

Some bad news coming out of Alaska: the ballot initiative to institute Instant Runoff Voting state-wide in Alaska was soundly defeated, with 64% of voters rejecting the measure.

If implemented, the measure would have used IRV in all state and federal elections other than governor (the Alaska constitution specifies plurality voting for the gubernatorial race). IRV is a ballot reform where candidates are ranked by voters in order of preference. If there is no majority winner of first-place votes, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and an "instant runoff" is held using the second-place votes of the people who had voted for that candidate. IRV uses a single paper ballot to create as many runoff rounds as are necessary to find a candidate with majority support, whereas our current first-past-the-post system simply throws up its hands and gives the election to the person who got more votes than any of the others, even if a majority of voters voted against her or him.

The first-past-the-post system creates all sorts of problems, especially the "spoiler" phenomenon: if there are more than two candidates running in an election, candidates with similar positions can end up splitting the vote, and the first-past-the-post system will just throw the election to a candidate with a minority of the vote, but with enough votes to get more than either of the two candidates who represented the majority position. This creates the old "Wasting your vote" brickbat used against every third party candidate. Instant Runoff Voting would mean an end to "lesser of two evils" politics as we know it, and allow breathing room for a vibrant, growing independent party movement.

Unfortunately, the Alaska League of Women Voters played a major role in smears and distortions which helped defeat the initiative, in spite of the LWV’s overwhelming support for Instant Runoff Voting nation-wide.

The Alaska League of Women Voters opposed the measure, saying there was too little public debate about it and too many potential problems. League President Cheryl Jebe said preferential voting violates the principle of one person, one vote.

This is just a lie. IRV has been repeatedly upheld against court challenges that it violates one-person-one-vote. It does not violate one-person-one-vote any more than a traditional run-off violates it; indeed, it respects the principle more, since all voters have the same opportunity to make a run-off vote, whereas in traditional run-off systems, voter turnout always decreases in the run-off because people cannot necessarily make it out to two different elections.

Jebe said the measure was too confusing and too costly to implement.

This is also a lie. IRV has been used in elementary school elections and is no more difficult to understand than counting 1-2-3. Since Alaska often has to use traditional run-offs, which require a second election, IRV would also result in substantial savings to Alaska taxpayers.

Oh well. You win some, and you lose some. Does this mean that the people aren’t ready for democracy? No, it just means that some powerful interests are lined up against us and ready to use any lie or manipulation they can to try to stop IRV from taking power out of the hands of political cronies. We have to do a better job of presenting how IRV works and why we all benefit from it. The campaign for IRV is still building steam, and as it becomes adopted from the bottom-up more and more across the country, I believe that serious ballot reform will still see its day.

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