AK Democrats change the way they pick Presidential primary candidates

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Democrats in Alaska will be picking who they want on the primary list of candidates for the President of the United States a little bit differently this election.

Executive Director of the Alaska Democrats, Lindsay Kavanaugh, said they’ve been working on changing the Presidential Preference Caucus model for about the past three years. Now it is called a Presidential Preference Party-Run Primary.

“The Alaskan Democratic Party has been pushing for a process that’s more inclusive of Alaskan voters,” she said, “Alaska has been a caucus state, which is a system where people have to physically show up for hours to vote for the President.”

Kavanaugh explained how a caucus works to Channel 2 reporters.

Essentially, in a caucus voters show up to a polling location and cast a ranking of their preferred candidates to be put on the primary candidate list for President. Votes are counted and the candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated from the choices. Then you vote with the candidates who are left until ultimately a winner is announced.

Kavanaugh said it can take anywhere from a couple of hours, to the entire day. In order to have their ballot cast, voters have to stay for the entire process.

She added that it wasn’t the most inclusive way to allow registered Democrats to have their ballots cast in the preference primaries. Especially in rural areas where people are so far separated from polling places. In many cases, she said registered voters in rural Alaska have never voted in a primary, or a preference primary.

Additionally, Kavanaugh describes the process as ‘chaotic, but fun for some.’ That chaos was prevalent in 2016 when so many people in Anchorage showed up to one voting center that they violated fire codes.

However, just because that happened, doesn’t mean that turnout was high for these elections. Kavanaugh said in 2016 the preference primaries only drew about 10,000 of over 75,000 registered Democrats in the state.

With the new system, the state Democrats are hopeful that more people will end up casting a ballot from the additional 20 polling places that they plan on setting up in locations based on the state House districts.

In more populated places, like Anchorage, she said there will be multiple polling places to accommodate voters.

When it comes to how the new system will look and feel, Kavanaugh said regular voters will feel a sense of familiarity.

“You come in, you cast your vote, and you leave,” she said, “it is more normal. It is exactly how you would vote for a primary in August in Alaska. This is different for presidential preference, but it is similar to how you would vote in any other election.”

One major difference is the way people fill out their ballots. Now, the preference primary will be a ranked-choice ballot. It’s a newer model that’s being adopted by more places. On Tuesday, November 5th, it was adopted in New York City.

“Ranked-choice voting is really a way to make sure that you make sure that you, as an individual, that your ballot counts,” Kavanaugh said, “if your number one doesn’t make it, your vote still counts for your number two, three, four, five. People who don’t make a certain threshold aren’t up for consideration.”

Meaning that if you place your first choice for a candidate makes the least number of votes, your second choice is your new first choice on your ballot.

Kavanaugh actually compared the way these ballots work as similar to a caucus, only you don’t have to stick around the voting precinct all day.

If you’re planning to participate, you can find the closest polling place by getting a hold of your house-district Democratic Chairs or calling the AK DEMS headquarters in Anchorage.

According to their website, all registered Democrats will be sent instructions on casting absentee ballots on February 19, 2020. Those ballots must be postmarked by March 24 to be counted. And the Primary Day Voting centers will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 4th.

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