Top-Four Ranked-Choice The new electoral mechanism and how it affects Alaskan politics.
by gabriel dawson
During Alaska’s 2020 elections, Ballot Measure 2 was passed with 50.55% of the vote. This measure includes a provision for increased campaign finance transparency, as well as the adoption of a Top-Four Ranked-Choice voting system for state executive Branch and congressional elections, in addition to Ranked-Choice for all general elections including the presidential. This vote has not been without pushback and has even been unsuccessfully challenged in court on the basis of unconstitutionality by the Alaskan Independence party. For better, or for worse, this is part of the slowly emerging trend at the local level of a switch to Ranked-Choice Voting. This article will explore this change and what it means for you.
Starting in 2022, elections will look different. Under ranked-choice voting, voters will select a predetermined number of candidates, ranking them in order of preference. Their favorite being 1, and their least favorite 4. The process continues by elimination. As votes are counted, the one with the least number of 1s is removed. Voters whose first choice was eliminated will have their votes diverted to their second-choice candidate. This continues until a winner is decided.
Alaska has adopted a Top-Four system, which means that voters will rank up to four candidates. Voters will be allowed to rank less than four if they would like, but should their candidate be eliminated, their vote will not be diverted. Primary elections will conclude when four candidates remain. Those who remain will not be representing a party, but rather their specific set of views– a divergence from the old system which would face a Republican and Democrat against each other. Voters will then rank the remaining candidates who will be distilled down to the remaining two, at which point the candidate with the majority of votes will win.
Alaska is not alone in this type of reform. One county in Oregon, and 59 cities across the US including New York, and San Francisco are championing it on the local level. Furthermore, in 2016, Maine approved Ranked-Choice voting, making it the first state to adopt it.
Recent reforms to the election process are in response to an emerging criticism of the American electoral tradition of two-party dominance.
It is coming from progressive Democrats who want the ability to vote for their candidates who fall left of the democratic establishment without fear of killing the chances of a more traditional democrat as was the case with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in 2016.
It is also coming from small party affiliates, more centrist voters and nonpartisans who view the large-scale polarization that we are witnessing not only as a forced mischaracterization of their voting interests, but also as harmful to society as it ensues further division even in spaces in which politics has no place. While Ranked-Choice would seem to address these concerns, in 94% of Ranked-Choice elections, the leader in first choice preferences has won. Regardless, this has the potential to be highly influential in the upcoming senatorial race in Alaska.
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