The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly voted down a proposal to become the first municipality in Alaska to use Ranked-Choice Voting. The sponsors themselves changed to a wait-and-see approach and watch the state elections that will use the system in 2022.
The Assembly had two weeks of debate on the ordinance that would have established a local ranked-choice voting system, and put aside $75,000 to educate voters on how it works. At the end of the last meeting, the body had voted down one version of the ordinance that would have put it on the October ballot for borough voters to decide if they want to change the system.
Before reconsidering that vote at last night’s meeting, the measure’s sponsor, Leah Berman-Williams, says she was daunted by how many people who commented to the Assembly, didn’t understand how the system works.
“The amount of money that is reserved for education is enough to send one postcard to every voter in the borough, and have a couple of booths at the Tanana Valley State Fair. Given the communications that we received, that’s not enough education. The voters of the borough, many of them, are severely misinformed about what ranked-choice voting is and how it works. And since we are implementing ranked-choice voting at the state level, I have regretfully decided that it would be better to wait, so that we can use the state’s money and the state’s resources to educate the voters of the borough.”
Her comments and position were echoed by the ordinance’s co-sponsor, Matt Cooper.
“There’s a lot that needs to be overcome in terms of people’s understanding about ranked-choice voting. So, I think the best choice at this point is to see how the state implements it. I think that’ll give folks in the borough a better understanding of how it works.”
The ordinance would have only affected those races where more than two people run for a seat. Instead of voting for only one person, voters rank the candidates. If no one wins more than 50 percent, the candidate with the fewest first choice votes drops from the race. Voters who picked that candidate would have their second choice candidate counted. That’s why this system of voting is sometimes called “instant runoff.”
Assemblymember Jimi Cash said he thinks what should have been a non-partisan issue became overly-politicized.
“It has been a very divisive couple of weeks. And I think it’s really wise what Mr. Cooper said and what Ms. Williams said, to let the state help people experience this type of an election and see if they like it.”
After the sponsors backed-off from the ordinance, only one Assembly member, Liz Lyke, voted to support it.
“I am planning to vote in favor of this ordinance; we have had a number of people have encouraged us to do so. I’d like to see at least one assembly member do so, to represent them.”
The ordinance was rejected 1 to 7.