Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Today, Anchorage elects a new mayor. Or, perhaps not.
I sketched the general contours of the contest a few weeks ago. But, I didn't focus enough on a rather strange rule. In the first round of voting in Anchorage -- in which all candidates participate, since this is a nominally non-partisan race -- a candidate can win simply by receiving more than 45% of the vote.
What's strange about that rule is that the standard is 45%, not 50%. You can imagine a scenario where 46% of voters love one candidate, but the other 54% can't stand him to the point that he is their last choice. Our candidate, let's call him Polar Izing (a good Alaskan name), would win the election, even though in a runoff he wouldn't stand a chance.
Now, surely the situation involving Mr. Izing is unlikely. It might even sound far-fetched, except for just one thing: Something similar happened in Anchorage just six years ago.
The key candidates in that race were George Wuerch, the incumbent Republican mayor, Rick Mystrom, the Republican mayor who preceded Wuerch, and Mark Begich, a Democratic member of the Anchorage Assembly. Begich won after a recount, with 45.03% of the vote. Today, of course, he's a U.S. senator, after winning another election that wasn't decided until weeks after election day.
One thing that made Begich's 2003 win so controversial is that voters approved the ballot measure changing the threshold from 50% to 45% at the same time they were electing him. The rule ended up in court, but it and Begich's victory were upheld.
Would Begich have lost in the runoff? He certainly wasn't as divisive as our theoretical Mr. Izing, but no one knows. Some Republicans certainly think so.
This year, though, the Republicans might benefit from the rule. Dan Sullivan, the leading conservative in the field, was at 42% in a recent poll. Democratic support is split between three candidates, meaning that Sullivan wouldn't necessarily win a runoff, despite his large lead.
The question, of course, is whether there will be a runoff at all. My prediction: Sullivan wins with 45.03% of the vote.
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