Ranked choice voting again in the spotlight as Alaskans hit the polls

Published: Nov. 4, 2022 at 4:02 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The midterm elections are well underway in Alaska as voters send in their early ballots. The new ranked choice voting system they are using is in the spotlight for the 2022 midterms.

“It really is very hard to strategize either as a candidate or as a voter,” said Jim Muller, a political expert from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Voters pick their first choice candidate, then make a second choice, a third choice, and so on. These are the candidates they want to win if their first choice does not. Vote counters take these backup options into account if no candidate wins a majority through after each round of tabulation.

Supporters of the system say it can make elections more civil and force candidates to seek out widespread support. Alaska is using this new system because of a narrowly passed 2020 ballot measure. Muller said he would not be surprised if Alaskans vote to scrap this new method after the midterms because of some reports of confusion.

“I just think eventually people will prefer to go back to the clearer system which they were used to,” said Muller.

In August, Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska) won a special election for the late Rep. Don Young’s House seat. Ranked choice voting played a big role as Republicans Nick Begich and Sarah Palin split the conservative vote and did not encourage their supporters to put the other as a backup option.

Peltola is an Alaska Native who is focusing on issues she believes are dear to Alaskans, not necessarily the Democratic Party at large. These issues include protecting the fishing industry, Second Amendment rights, and addressing food insecurity.

Alaska Democratic Party executive director Lindsay Kavanaugh said in a statement, “Ahead of…the August 16, 2022, Special General Election, the Alaska Democratic Party consistently encouraged voters to rank candidates whose values most closely aligned with their own. As the Special General Election results showed, voters did just that, and Alaskans now have a Democratic voice speaking for them in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

But Cynthia Henry from the Alaska Republican Party is not convinced the results reflect Alaskans’ true vision for representation.

“I would support a movement to go back to our traditional way of voting and I think there would be a lot of support from Alaskans to do that,” said Henry.

In person voting on Election Day will take place Tuesday. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.