Alaska's Ranked-Choice Voting Put To The Test

[ Posted Tuesday, August 16th, 2022 – 15:28 UTC ]

Alaska is trying out two new ballot innovations today, which is further complicated by the fact that voters will be using each new innovation once -- for the same office. Representative Don Young died suddenly earlier this year, which means a special election to fill the remainder of his term is happening today as well as a primary election for the term which begins next January. There was an earlier primary for the special election, which was the first time Alaskans used their new "top 4" open-primary system (sometimes called a "jungle primary"). And today's special election will be the first time they'll vote using a "ranked-choice" ballot, where voters don't just get one static vote, instead they get to list the candidates in whatever ranking they wish: first choice, second choice, etc....

After the primary results were in for the special election, the race quickly turned into "top 3" instead of the promised "top 4." Here are the results of the vote, for the top five candidates (I should mention that I am resisting the urge to include "Santa Claus" -- yes, his real legal name -- who came in sixth place):


27.0 percent -- Sarah Palin (R)

19.1 -- Nick Begich (R)

12.6 -- Al Gross (Ind.)

10.1 -- Mary Peltola (D)

5.9 -- Tara Sweeney (R)


The monkey wrench got thrown in the works when Al Gross unexpectedly dropped out, without explanation. The elections board then announced his name wouldn't be printed on the special election ballot. Tara Sweeney then sued to get her name on the ballot (since without Gross in the picture, she came in fourth place), but the Alaska Supreme Court ruled this out. Sweeney is now running as one of a handful of write-in candidates.

Of course we all already know Sarah Palin, for better or worse. She is trying to revive her political fortunes, which soared to the height of running for vice president before crashing and burning when she quit the governor's office only halfway through her term. Since then, she's been making as many bucks as she possibly can off her personality and screen presence, but that shtick has grown a bit thin, these days. And after Donald Trump proved that there simply was no scandal large enough to convince the voters to ignore, Palin decided to revive her dormant political career.

The biggest knocks against Palin are that (1) she's a quitter, (2) she's always all about herself, and (3) she spends most of her time out of Alaska these days. Nick Begich has been hammering her on these things during the campaign. Begich is an interesting candidate because he comes from a Democratic political dynasty in Alaska (his grandfather Nick held the same House seat he is running for, and his uncle Mark was a senator). He is a conservative Republican, but may actually draw votes from Democrats who assume any Begich is going to be a Democrat (low-information voters, in other words). In a twist of irony, he'll be attending a watch party tonight at the home of Sarah Palin's former in-laws. Jim Palin, Sarah's ex-father-in-law, endorses Nick: "He is part of the Begich family tree, but he's clearly a different branch."

Mary Peltola is a Yup'ik woman, has held state office previously, and is a Democrat who favors abortion rights and higher taxes for the wealthy. She would be the first Alaska Native to be elected to Congress, although write-in candidate Tara Sweeney is Iñupiat, so there really are two Native candidates running. Either one winning would be historic.

The only thing almost certain about this race is that we won't know the answers tonight, or even tomorrow morning. The ranked-choice system is rather slow, and mail-in ballots which arrive in the next few days (postmarked today or earlier) are also going to have to be counted. The first tally will include everyone on the ballot, as well as the write-ins. There are six write-in candidates, and all the votes for them will be lumped together for the first round of counting. If this total gets in either of the top two positions, then this aggregate will be broken out into a count of the separate candidates. This isn't likely, though. If no candidate gets above 50 percent of the vote, then we move on to the second round.

The second round of tallying will drop the write-in candidates off, moving all their votes to the marked second choices on those ballots. This will leave only three candidates. If none of them gets above 50 percent, then there will be a third and final round of counting between only the top two from the second round.

As voters have found in other places this system has been implemented, second choices really matter (and third and fourth choices, if the ballot is long enough). If you're a Republican who isn't very enamored with Sarah Palin, you'll likely vote for Begich. But who will you put down for a second choice? How anti-Palin are you? Will you vote for a Democrat to keep Sarah out of office?

Of course, just going from the primary results, there's a bigger likelihood that it will be Democrats' second choices that wind up mattering. Which is why Palin might be in trouble. If Palin can't win outright with just over 50 percent, how many second-choice votes is she going to get? It would seem a lot more logical that Democrats would mark Begich down rather than Palin, so even if Sarah wins the first round she may ultimately lose the race (which does indeed happen all the time, with ranked-choice voting).

Whoever wins to sit in Congress for the rest of this year, today is also the primary for the full term which begins next January. There are only (!) 22 candidates on the ballot (there were 48 for the special election primary), and the top four will advance to run against each other in November. So Sarah Palin will have a second chance, even if she loses her special election race tonight.

The other big race on Alaska's ballot is the primary for senator. Lisa Murkowski is running for re-election, and she will be the first Republican senator to face her voters after voting to convict Donald Trump in his second impeachment (six other GOP senators voted to convict, but none of them are up for re-election this year). Trump endorsed a challenger, but Murkowski has already proven she has a base in Alaska that will vote for her no matter what, as she won only the second successful write-in campaign for a Senate seat in U.S. history, back in 2010 (when a Tea Partier won the Republican nomination). That's a pretty loyal base, you've got to admit.

All Murkowski has to do tonight is secure one of the top four slots, which isn't likely to be a problem for her. Even if the Trump-backed candidate winds up in first place, she'll face exactly the same problem Palin is facing right now -- Murkowski is likely to a be a second choice for a lot more voters than a MAGA extremist.

This is exactly what the proponents of ranked-choice voting have always claimed, in fact -- that the system allows more moderate politicians to win, rather than just giving the voters choices between two extremes. Which, if Murkowski winds up winning and Palin losing, would indeed be the outcome in Alaska. Whether you agree that setting up an election system for the purpose of electing moderates over extremists is a good idea or not (I am still somewhat on the fence on this one, I should add), it does seem like it could work exactly as designed in Alaska.

We'll know for sure in a week or two. This seems to be the biggest drawback to the system in a lot of places -- the counting is so complex that it takes a lot of time. But even that could improve over time, as people innovate to cope with ranked-choice ballot counting procedures.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


5 Comments on “Alaska's Ranked-Choice Voting Put To The Test”

  1. [1] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    As to whether promoting the chances of moderate candidates is a good thing or not should be judged like Dobbs is being judged: does it add rights or give more of a voice to more people? Ranked choice, yes. Dobbs, no.

  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    Wyoming Republicans Throw Liz Cheney Out Of Congress


    And ANOTHER Trump/America hater bites the dust!!!

    Out of the 10 Trump/America haters that turned their backs on this country, 8 of them FAILED to survive!!!!


  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    President Trump has now effectively ended 3 political dynasties...





    Suck it, Democrats!!! :D

    Winter's Coming....

  4. [4] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:


    Just like with a shit boomerang, it was so nice to be able to breathe clean air again for a while...but you are never quite prepared for just how bad the stench is when it returns.

    How odd of you to miss out on all of the Trump drama last week. It's as if you were in hiding for some reason...

    The FBI "raids" Trump's Florida cockroach and bedbug infested club;

    Claims that the DOJ is just trying to embarrass him to keep him from running in 2024 -- but this story broke ONLY because TRUMP called different new agencies to announce that the FBI were taking back the Top Secret documents that he had stolen;

    Trump's delusional post on his TRUTH app claiming that his posts there should be the equivalent to an actual legal request in the eyes of the court even though they are NOT;

    Trump accuses the FBI of planting evidence -- maybe he thinks they carried in shrunken copies of the documents in their backpacks and then dropped them in the toilets so that they would grow to full size and would fill 11 boxes -- which would possibly make sense considering his own firsthand experience with "toilet documents";

    Republicans (knowing that the DOJ's policy is to not release any information to the public concerning warrants in an ongoing case) demanded the DOJ release the warrant information in an attempt to tarnish the public's opinion of the FBI's actions... only to have Merrick Garland play them like a fiddle and "give in" to their demands - letting the world see just what Trump was accused of doing (can you say, "violating the Espionage Act"?);

    Eric Trump denouncing President Biden's claims that he was not aware of the FBI's actions in FL, saying that HE knows based on his father's experience that the president is always in on whatever actions the FBI takes against political opponents;

    Calls for the FBI to be defunded (which according to you means that Trump is actually a Democrat) and investigated;

    Trump says he magically "declassified" any classified documents that were recovered, but only after his attorneys signed a sworn statement that Trump had turned over all of the documents the National Archives had sought that were in his possession (over 11 boxes of documents were recovered despite what they had sworn to be the truth);

    Demanded that all of the documents taken were either protected under attorney/client privilege (no communications concerning illegal activities qualify as "attorney/client") or under "executive privilege" (which Trump no longer has), and they must be returned back to from where they were illegally taken -- completely oblivious to the irony that that was exactly what the FBI's warrant was doing;

    Russian TV claiming that their government's analysts have been reviewing the nuclear documents taken from Mar-a-Lardo for months now;

    and finally, Trump's accusations led to the violent death of one of your cult brothers who attacked an FBI office in Ohio with a nail gun and an assault rifle (still not seeing any condemnation of the violence from you...figured that it would have been the FIRST thing you did when you returned).

    I'm sure that I missed a few more of the elements of this Perfect Shitstorm, but you get the picture.

    This fiasco did have one positive result -- it answered the question, "What could Jared Kushner possibly have that would be worth $2.5 billion to the Saudi's?"

    Funny that you stayed away during the shitstorm that Trump conjured and weren't here to defend your Great Leader. That you only now seem to dart out and test the waters after Cheney's defeat. Then quickly running back to your hole to see if the storm passes any more.

    I'd say that we've missed ya; but we both know I would be lying so why bother.

  5. [5] 
    Kick wrote:


    Out of the 10 Trump/America haters that turned their backs on this country, 8 of them FAILED to survive!!!!

    The troll is incorrect... as per usual. There were a whole lot more than 10 Americans who weren't gullible rubes and who refused to abase themselves as servile cock holsters to Donald Trump, and Jussie Smollett of Weigantia a.k.a. Michale definitely wasn't one of them.

    President Trump has now effectively ended 3 political dynasties...

    Incorrect. If Trump is still president, then the Clintons, Bushes, and Cheneys are definitely all still political dynasties, George P. Bush is most assuredly still Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office...

    ... and you're still an unquestionable demonstrable uneducated imbecile.

    Suck it, Democrats!!!

    I have a better idea: Stop sucking it, Michale.

    Winter's Coming....

    November is in the fall, you uneducated moron.
    Winter won't arrive until late December.

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