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Community Perspective

Improve Alaska’s elections by supporting Measure 2

I recently took time to examine Ballot Measure 2, which proposes to modify how Alaska’s statewide elections are conducted. While initially leery of making changes in the voting process, after examining the three elements of this proposal, I came away believing the initiative is both positive and necessary to make our elected officials more representative of Alaskans.

If adopted, the biggest change is to implement ranked choice voting, allowing voters the option to select a first-, second-, third- and fourth-choice candidate for a given seat. If a candidate gets more than half the votes based on voters first choice, that person wins — just like today. If no candidate reaches that threshold, the candidate with the lowest percentage is eliminated, and votes for that candidate are redistributed based on the voter’s second choice. This process continues until one candidate accumulates more than half the votes.

This approach ensures the winner is the choice of a majority of voters. Over time this should affect how they campaign, and how they govern — needing to appeal to a broader cross section of voters. The other parts of the initiative address knowing who is funding elections and making primary elections more open to all voters.

Yes, these changes are likely to diminish the power of the parties. In Alaska, less than 40% of voters belong to one of the two major parties, leaving the majority outside of those groups. I belong to one of the major parties and am not opposed to them. However, after watching the gridlock in Juneau and in Washington, D.C., I believe we must make carefully considered adjustments to how we select our elected officials to keep the “American experiment,” as it is sometime called, healthy.

I work full-time in government affairs, interacting with elected officials and the government personnel who deliver services to the public. From this perspective I have witnessed how the lack of agreement in our Legislature impacts the ability of the agencies to function. While the initiative alone won’t magically transform this situation overnight, I believe in the long run it will have a positive effect.

It was reassuring to see that supporters listed on the initiative website include a diverse cross-section of Alaskans, including former elected officials from both Republican and Democratic parties. These people have been there and understand the problem. They are putting the needs of Alaska ahead of loyalty to party.

The chief arguments against this proposal appear to be that it is too complicated and too confusing to voters. Opponents attack the length of the initiative, as the full wording runs to 26 pages. That is because after the summary, the proposers listed all the statutes and changes needed to implement the process. In other words, they were completely transparent — allowing anyone wanting to get into the weeds to see the changes. As for the complexity of voting, while different, ranking candidates in the order of voter preference is not difficult to understand or to mark on a ballot. If you wish to only vote for one, that is still allowed.

Contrary to claims that it has been widely rejected, according to Ballotpedia it is used for local elections in eight states today with an additional five in the process of implementing it. Maine is the only state so far using it for statewide races. Ireland has used this method since 1921 and along with Australia is among nine countries using this approach.

For a more in-depth discussion of both sides of this issue, the Alaska House State Affairs Committee hearing on June 30 is available online and worth listening to. Links to that hearing, the initiative website and other materials may be found at the Fairbanks League of Women Voters webpage at www.lwvalaska.org/fairbanks.

Please investigate Ballot Measure 2 and support it to improve how our government functions in the future. We must get to a place where elected officials can work more collaboratively to make the important, sometimes painful, decisions needed for Alaska’s future.

Tom George works full time in government affairs for a nonprofit organization and has been a resident of Fairbanks for more than 60 years.

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