Alaska has become the second US state to embrace Ranked Choice voting. Reports coming out of their August 16tth primary allow us to reflect on what we hear and see.

Alaskans approved a ballot initiative in the 2020 general election that changed the way they conduct their state and federal elections. The elections affected are President/Vice President, U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, Governor/Lieutenant Governor, all state representatives and state senators. The first round primary election is now “non-partisan pick one. “ That means Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and Independents are all on the same primary ballot. Voters in this round cast a vote for one candidate. The top 4 finishers are placed on the November General Election Ballot which is conducted with Ranked Choice Voting.

Focusing on the two highest profile races:

  • The special election for Alaska’s single Congressional seat will yield four winners from over twenty choices on the ballot. The final four will include one Democrat and three Republicans. Democrat Mary Peltola got the most votes. Former Governor Sarah Palin is in second place.
  • In the election for US Senator the final four consists of three Republicans, and one Democrat. Incumbent Lisa Murkowsky (R) got the most votes

The results will not be official until all mail-in ballots have been received and tabulated. That will take several weeks. One of the barbs that RCV critics throw out is “It takes so long to count the votes.” They are saying it again in this Alaska election. This delay has nothing to do with RCV. Alaska, a state three times as large as Texas, allows a long time for mail-in ballots to arrive and be counted. You can’t start allocating last place finishers’ second choices until you know the order of finish. Once the numbers are officially certified, the resolution of the ranked choices goes quickly – in a matter of minutes.

Here’s my view on what Georgians could take away from the Alaska experience thus far.

  • Alaska is a very red state. Georgia is red, but as one observer noted, a very light red, more like magenta. So one must be careful not to overlook this difference.
  • Georgia has a short window between election day and certification (3 days). Anyone complaining about long delays in knowing the absolute winner should know that Georgia would not have this problem.
  • It should be noted that if Murkowsky wins another term, it will be with the support of people who didn’t vote for her as their first choice. One important selling point for RCV is that it rewards moderation in campaigning and eventually places people in office who are more practical and less ideological. Lisa Murkowsky is a moderate Republican by today’s standards, who doesn’t always vote the party line. When we see what happened to Liz Cheney and other House Republicans who are deemed insufficiently loyal, Murkowski’s likely reelection confirms that RCV does mitigate against the polarizing effect of the traditional closed primary system.
  • Republicans who might not like my previous point can take comfort from this one. Even though Democrat Peltola finished first in round one, she’s not likely to win in November. Palin and fellow Republican Nick Begich split the vote fairly evenly, and RCV will likely reward one of them with a victory. In a pure plurality system, the Democrat would have taken the seat. And if the Republican candidates will need to court Peltoa’s supporters for their second choice votes, that’s a good thing.
  • This discussion would not be complete if I did not point out that the Final Four format in Alaska offers a vast opportunity for a better election process not only because of using RCV to determine the winner, but because Alaska went to open primaries. That is a huge step in opening up the election process to a broader range of candidates.

Better Ballot Georgia knows that, as long as ballot access remains restrictive in our state, we will miss out on the full opportunity offered by RCV. Convincing Georgia Ds and Rs to give up their closed primary system is a tough hill to climb. Alaska can change election laws through a referendum process, but Georgia must go the legislative route. So we take on one challenge at a time. Political progress, like the wheels of justice, turn slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine. So keep the faith, Baby!