The future of Alaska voting

By Lucas Stewart, Staff Writer

What does ranked choice voting mean for the state?

Alaskans who vote in the 2022 election will rank candidates in order of prefer- ence as the state moves to a new voting system.

Alaska is the second state in the U.S. to adopt Ranked Choice Voting for state- wide elections, with Maine being the first.

Ranked Choice Voting allows voters to choose multiple candidates based on their preference for each one. A can- didate must get more than 50% of the votes to win. If no candidate receives

a clear majority, the candidate with the least number of first votes is eliminated from the running and the process contin- ues for the second, third, and so on until a winner can be named.

If a voter’s first choice is eliminated, their vote will simply go to whoever they picked second.

Many Alaska voters like the middle

Ranked Choice Voting has interesting implications for Alaska voters, according to University of Western Australia Political Science Professor Benjamin Reilly. Australia has used Ranked Choice Voting since the 1990s.

“It tends to work to the advantage of the political center, wherever that center may be. Wherever the center is, whoever occupies the center, tends to do better under ranked choice vote,” Reilly said at the Sept. 24 Evening at Egan lecture. “It does help candidates who plant themselves in the middle ground, and of course votes for minor parties aren’t wasted and can influence which of the bigger parties are elected.”

UAS Associate Professor of Political Science Glenn Wright joined Reilly at the lecture to present data on the current voting climate in Alaska, and what Alaskans might expect under the new system.

Based on the data, many Alaska voters are registered as nonpartisan or undeclared voters, and “14 percent represents so-called nonpartisan voters and the 44 percent represents so-called undeclared voters,” Wright said.

This means nearly 60% of Alaska voters are not registered as members of either the Republican or Democratic parties. Wright said it is possible that indepen- dent voters do not believe the parties are conservative or liberal enough for them.

“There are also people who are unde- clared, undecided, nonpartisan indepen- dent voters who really are uncomfortable with both parties because they sort of fit in the middle,” Wright said.

Due to splitting votes between candi- dates, some candidates generally do better than others in the old system.

“It is easy to imagine the situation under the old election system, given what we know about the ideology of Alaskan voters, where a conservative Republican like Governor Dunleavy would do quite well but would not quite win a majority, and then many voters would oppose Dunleavy but they would split their votes between two other candidates,” Wright said.

Ranked Choice Voting requires that there be a majority win based on the preferences for each candidate, and so a win without some kind of majority support is unlikely to happen.

In Alaska some candidates have won without majority support; the ranked choice system will eliminate that potential outcome.

Open Primary leads to Ranked Choice

In future elections, Alaska will use an open Top Four Primary with all candidates regardless of party on the same ballot. According to the Division of Elections, voters may vote for one candidate in each race, regardless of voters’ political affiliation.

The four candidates in each race who receive the most votes will advance to the general election, where they will be ranked on the ballot by voter preference.

Alaska voters approved the new system in the November 2020 election. A lawsuit was quickly filed to overturn the ballot measure, but an Anchorage Superior Court judge ruled in July that the open primary and ranked choice voting are legal under the Alaska Constitution.

Leave a Reply