Borough Assembly to consider ranked-choice voting in municipal elections

Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 4:56 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - A controversial voting system is once more taking the spotlight in Fairbanks.

On Thursday, April 22nd, the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly will hear public testimony on an ordinance which seeks to implement ranked-choice voting in borough elections.

Ranked-choice voting involves voters ranking candidates in order of preference, after which candidates with the least 1st place votes are eliminated. Their votes are then assigned to the runner up on their ballot until a candidate has a majority of the votes.

This system was voted into law for state elections last year.

Co-Sponsor Leah Berman Williams sees the ordinance as a chance for winning candidates to reflect the will of the voters. “It will mean that people can vote for who they think the best candidate is without worrying about splitting the vote or voting strategically,” she said, adding, “No voting system is perfect. Every voting system has flaws. A major flaw in our current voting system is that you can have people elected who only got 32 percent of the vote, and I don’t think that’s right.”

Both Williams and Borough Mayor Bryce Ward say the proposal is bringing in a record number of emails and comments, more than they’ve seen since being in office.

Two substitute bills have also been proposed, one by Ward and one by the document’s sponsors. These would but the issue on the ballot for an advisory vote in October.

Ward says he has concerns about implementing ranked-choice voting without partnership from the cities of Fairbanks and North Pole.

“We do all of our municipal elections at the same time, and I worry that having different ballots, if you will, could be confusing for folks, between city races and borough races. This is also pretty new, as I understand,” Ward said.

Ward said he is not convinced that ranked-choice voting is a good idea for the community at this time.

Ordinance 2021-17 would use $75,000 from the General Fund for its implementation.

The Borough Assembly will hear public testimony at its regular meeting on April 22nd.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. and is open to the public in-person with limited capacity, or via Zoom.

Information on how to testify can be found on the borough’s website.

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