After Peltola win in Alaska, debate erupts over ranked-choice voting

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ANCHORING — Democrat Mary Peltola made history this week as the first Alaska Native woman to be elected to her state’s only seat in the United States House.

She also became the first to win an election under Alaska’s new ranked voting system – a new process in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. The proceedings drew heavy criticism from some conservatives following Peltola’s special election victory over former Republican Governor Sarah Palin, while defenders praised her for rewarding less polarizing candidates and a campaign more positive.

One of the most vocal critics has been Palin. On Thursday, she released a statement saying the results of this week’s ranking pick were “not the will of the people” and calling on the other runner-up in the recently completed special election, Republican Nick Begich III, to put down end his campaign before the November general election. in which the candidates will compete again for a two-year term. Palin also called on the state to provide more information about the rejected ballots.

Begich released his own statement on Wednesday describing Peltola as out of step with most Alaskans and Palin as ineligible under the new system. He said the results of the ranked choices made it clear that in November, “a vote for Sarah Palin is really a vote for Mary Peltola.”

How second-choice votes propelled a Democrat to victory in Alaska

The Alaska special election marked one of the most high-profile tests to date of ranked voting, following its use last year in the New York mayoral race and in Maine before that. A constitutional amendment to adopt a new voting system similar to Alaska’s is on the Nevada ballot in November.

Pundits cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions from Peltola’s victory, saying the effects of Alaska’s new system will only become clear once more races are organized and decided. That will happen in November, when Alaskans are expected to rank candidates in dozens of state legislative campaigns, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s re-election race and the repeated congressional contest with Palin, Peltola, Begich and a fourth runner-up .

“Everyone is racing to conclusions about who benefits from this thing, when it’s totally unpredictable,” said Jack Santucci, a politics professor at Drexel University who has studied preferential voting. “People really tend to see in these results what they want to see.”

Alaska’s new candidate election system begins with a nonpartisan primary in which the top four qualify for the general election and voters make only one choice. But in general elections, voters rank their choices on the ballot. If no candidate wins a majority of the first-choice votes, the lowest-performing candidate is eliminated and their reserve votes are reallocated to the other candidates. The process continues until there is a winner.

Peltola was in the lead after the first-choice votes were tallied in the special election. Second-placed Palin made up ground but still failed to pass Peltola after replacement choices for Begich, who finished third, were considered. (The fourth runner-up ended his campaign before the election, leaving just three on the ballot.)

About half of Begich’s first-choice voters ranked Palin second. But nearly 30% picked Peltola second, while 21% ranked neither Peltola nor Palin — a result called “ballot exhaustion.”

Begich’s 11,222 exhausted ballots were more than double Peltola’s final margin on Palin.

Chart: How Alternative Voting Could Change How Democracy Works


Note: 47 ballots were not counted in the final round

because the same ranking has been assigned to more

more than one candidate.

Note: 47 ballots were not counted in the final round because the same ranking was assigned to multiple

more than one candidate.

Palin has consistently criticized the system throughout her campaign, calling ranked-choice voting untrustworthy, “cockamamie” and “leftist” in various statements and social media posts.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) issued similar notes on Twitter, saying Wednesday that the system is a “scam to rig the elections”.

“60% of Alaska voters voted for a Republican, but through a convoluted process and exhausted ballots – which disenfranchises voters – a Democrat won” he wrote.

But other observers have argued that the result says less about the ranked voting system and more about the candidates.

“The problem for the Republican Party in Alaska was not preferential voting; they were their candidates. Requiring a candidate to get more than 50% to be elected is not a scam; it makes sense. Let’s implement ranked voting everywhere,” wrote former Michigan Congressman Justin Amash, former Republican, on Twitter.

Peltola, in an interview with The Washington Post, attributed her victory not to Alaska’s new electoral system, but to her message that she would work across party lines. “I think it also reveals that Alaskans are very tired of bickering and personal attacks,” she said.

The share of Begich supporters who transferred to Palin, experts say, at least partly reflects what polls show as her high negative rating among Alaskan voters. Despite a GOP campaign urging Republicans to “file red” and mark their ballots for Palin and Begich, the two candidates’ repeated attacks on each other have likely reduced the chances that their staunchest supporters will choose the other candidate in second place, some observers said.

“Republicans who voted for Nick and decided not to go any further basically helped hand the election over to Peltola,” said Sarah Erkmann Ward, an Anchorage GOP political consultant who was hired to educate conservatives. on the new system. “It will be a wake-up call for Republican voters to rethink their strategy.”

Ranked choice boosters said they are looking forward to November’s election in Alaska, when voters and candidates will get their second chance to use the new system — and some lessons from what happened during the election. special run to Congress.

“They may make different choices,” said Rob Richie, president of FairVote, a ranked choice advocacy group. Republicans, he added, “are going to have to decide how badly they want this seat.”

Voters in Alaska approved the state’s new electoral system in a 2020 ballot initiative, when it passed by just 1%, or less than 4,000 votes.

It had major financial backing from entities linked to Kathryn and James Murdoch, a son of media titan Rupert Murdoch, and Houston-based billionaire investor John Arnold, who have since contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to a super PAC supporting Murkowski’s re-election.

Other supporters and operatives involved in the ballot measurement campaign have ties to Murkowski, who outplayed a Trump-endorsed challenger in his August primary under the new, nonpartisan system – sparing him the fate of 2010, when ‘She lost the GOP primary and was not reelected until after a general election campaign. But supporters of the system in Alaska say their vision was broader than a single election and aimed to reduce polarization within the state legislature.

In Election Day interviews, voters in Alaska were divided on the new system. Many conservatives said they found it confusing and frustrating and wanted to return to the old system of partisan primaries and plurality voting in Alaska’s general election.

“Why would we change something that isn’t broken? said Chris Chandler, 23, an Anchorage Credit Union employee who ranked Palin first and Begich second. “It’s just another way for them to get another Democrat in there.”

But other voters urged patience. Dan Poulson, a public defender who ranked Peltola first, said the Alaskans just need time to adjust to the system.

“People find out when they walk in,” he said after voting in Anchorage. “I think it will take experience and practice before you understand.”

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