Brochures are displayed at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Anchorage, Alaska, detailing changes to elections this year on Jan. 21, 2022. Alaska elections will be held for the first time this year under a voter-backed system that scraps party primaries and sends the top four vote-getters regardless of party to the general election, where ranked choice voting will be used to determine a winner. No other state conducts its elections with that same combination. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
UPDATED 1:21 PM PT – Wednesday, January 26, 2022
The Supreme Court of Alaska upheld a new election system after an unsuccessful attempt to block it. The new system eliminates the need for party primaries and replaces them with one single primary in which all candidates will appear on a ballot regardless of party affiliation. The state will then select the winner of the general election through ranked choice voting.
“First of all, it repealed Alaska’s closed political primaries where we had a Democratic and Republican primary and created one primary election, where all the candidates appear and every voter gets that ballot,” explained Scott Kendall, a lawyer and author of “Changes.” “You choose your favorite and then the top four finishers for each office move on to the general election. And then the general election, the election is conducted via what we call ranked-choice voting.”
In a ranked-choice voting system, voters will rank the candidates by preference on their ballots with the candidate who receives a majority of the first preference votes being declared the winner. If none of the candidates wins a majority of first preference votes, the one with lowest percentage will be eliminated with the voting starting over. This cycle will repeat until a candidate wins an outright majority.
Despite being upheld by the Alaskan Supreme Court last week, the new system has been met with mixed reactions. Bob Bird, the chairman of the Alaskan Independence Party, is among the critics of ranked choice voting.
“First of all, the mistake we make is that to allow the state to pay for and conduct the primaries,” he stated. “Primaries should be a private event.”
Supporters of the new system claim that it prevents the two major political parties from acting as gatekeepers and giving independent politicians a chance to win. Chief among those who support the new system is Fair Vote CEO Rob Richie. This non-partisan organization is dedicated to election reform.
“From our perspective, ranked -choice voting as an important piece of that reform is this change that I think is the fastest growing reform in the country, working in both red and blue states and I think does great things for voters,” said Rob Richie.
Ranked-choice voting is still experimental in the state with many critics warning that it won’t work as voters intend. Alaska will be using the new system in its upcoming primary election.