Alaska voters adopt ranked-choice voting in ballot initiative

In a close vote that came down to about 4,000 ballots, Alaskans approved a measure to join Maine in the conduct of their election using tiered choice voting by approving the voting initiative Measure 2.

Measure 2 makes sweeping changes to the way Alaska administers elections. Instead of two primaries, in which each political party nominates a candidate in the November general election, the state will hold an open primary from which the top four candidates, regardless of party affiliation, will go to the elections. general.

Ranked choice voting allows voters to list candidates in order of preference.

“This is a victory for everyone in Alaska, regardless of their political orientation,” said Shea Siegert, director of the Yes in 2 campaign for better elections, said Wednesday in a statement. “We now have an electoral system that lives up to Alaska’s independence by saying, ‘Damn politics, let’s do what’s right for Alaska.’

The Alaska result was a victory for voting reform activists, who argued that changing the way we vote could address hyperpartism and polarization while giving third-party candidates a better chance to vote. ” access elected functions. Opponents have warned it could be a logistical headache, although so far cities and states that have adopted priority voting have conducted their elections without major problems. Massachusetts considered a similar law in November but rejected it.

Ranked choice voting works like this: instead of by choosing one of the candidates on the ballot, you rank them from most preferred to least preferred. Although it is new to the United States, it has been used successfully for a century in Australia and Ireland.

The idea is that it allows voters to choose their eventual preferred candidate. Most of the United States has what is called a first-party majority electoral system, in which the candidate with the most votes becomes president. First past the post systems encourage strategic voting (voting not for your favorite candidate but for your favorite candidate with a real chance of winning), and they have led to the rise of a two-party system like that of the United States.

And while first-party voting systems weren’t the only factor that led to the two-party system or America’s growing polarization, they’ve certainly helped. First past the post systems mean that third-party candidates rarely win, although many voters prefer them; every voter expects voting for a third party to “reject” their vote.

Imagine that one person decides between President Donald Trump, Democratic candidate Joe Biden, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, and Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen. Our hypothetical voter likes both Hawkins and Jorgensen better than Biden but would rather Biden win than Trump.

Under first-party voting – the voting system most Americans voted for in this election – our hypothetical voter might feel compelled to vote for Biden. Under ranked choice voting, they would list (for example) Hawkins first, Jorgensen second, Biden third, and Trump fourth. When the ballots are counted, the counters eliminate the candidate with the fewest first place votes and “transfer” their vote to their second candidate.

You can see how it works on this ballot from Maine, which led the very first statewide general election with a ranked choice vote in November.

David Sharp / AP Photo

As a result, third-party candidates get more votes because voters don’t feel like they’re rejecting their vote by supporting them. And the process generally favors candidates that many voters find acceptable over polarizing candidates that many voters hate.

“Ranked choice voting rewards candidates who can appeal the most widely because candidates compete for the voters’ second and third choice as well as their first,” wrote voting reform expert Lee Drutman for Vox in 2019 . Studies show that in areas where choice is ranked voting, campaigns are more civil. Ranked choice voting could also increase the representation of women and minorities, which appear to benefit when electoral conditions encourage the formation of coalitions.

It is a particularly big problem in Alaska, where independents represent 57 percent of registered voters but hold only three seats in the state legislature.

Another implication of Voting Measure 2 is that moderate Republican Senator from Alaska Lisa Murkowski is less likely to be a right-wing award – this is what happened in 2010, when a more conservative Republican won the party nomination, forcing Murkowski to lead an unprecedented successful registration campaign to retain his seat. In a tiered choice voting system, Murkowski only needs to be one of the top four candidates in the primary to qualify for the general election.

A growing conversation about how we vote

Ranked choice voting is used around the world, but until two decades ago – when San Francisco adopted it – it was rarely used or discussed in the United States.

U.S. election experts, concerned about growing polarization and voter disenchantment, have started to encourage other cities and states to adopt it. It went well in San Francisco, and other cities signed. Eventually, the movement hit the national stage: in 2018, Maine became the first state to adopt ranked choice voting. In 2019, New York also signed. In the 2020 election cycle, presidential candidates Senators Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bennet endorsed it.

These early adopters are giving us a window into some important questions regarding tiered choice voting. In particular, critics feared that it would be more difficult for the polling station to compile and that this will confuse voters or lead to more spoiled ballots.

No such issues were reported in this year’s ranked-choice primaries, and ranked-choice voting is working well in many other countries. But Maine’s high turnout in the 2020 general election marked the first time the system was in the spotlight for most Americans. With Maine and Alaska now resorting to priority voting, this method of conducting elections will have a chance to prove that it works – or does not work – in combating rising polarization.