Ranked-choice voting: What it is, and why some Alaskans say we need it

(Cropped Photo: Lindsay D’Addato / WyoFile / CC BY 2.0 / )

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Recently, more and more jurisdictions in the United States are adopting a voting system called ranked-choice voting. Now a group of supporters is trying to bring the change to Alaska.

The supporting group trying to bring the system here is called Alaskans for Better Elections. Ranked-choice voting is only one of three parts of the initiative according to co-chair Jason Grenn, a former Alaska lawmaker.

Ranked-choice voting isn’t a new system for elections. It’s been used in other countries for many years, and now supporters are trying to implement it in growing numbers of places.

A handful of cities in Michigan and California have adopted ranked-choice voting models and most recently, New York City.

Maine started using it back in 2016, making them a forerunner in the movement. Channel 2 reporters reached out to the campaign manager for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, Kyle Bailey, to learn more about how it works and how it’s working out in Maine.

“It gives people the power to rank candidates in order of their individual preference from their favorite to their least favorite,” Bailey said, “On election night, ballots are counted in rounds in which last-place candidates are eliminated.”

Bailey said during the counting process, after the person with the least number of first-choice votes is eliminated their votes will go to their second choice. That process gets repeated until one candidate has more than 50% of the votes.

He also noted that if someone gets 50% of the votes on the first round, then there is no second round.

In Maine, he said the system has been embraced by voters.

“Voters overwhelmingly said according to exit polls by the Bangor Daily News and Edison Research that they found it easy to use. It was not complicated,” he said, “It worked so successfully that the legislature decided to expand ranked-choice voting to adopt it for Presidential Primaries and the General.”

So Maine is going to be the first state in the nation’s history to use this system in a presidential election.

Both Grenn and Bailey said this voting system is meant to be a bipartisan system that takes some of the polarization out of politics.

“To ensure that the winner is more broadly supported. They’ve been able to put together in a coalition of first, second, or even third choice rankings, and appeal beyond their base,” Bailey said, “and appeal more broadly for support and run a more civil campaign and talk to voters who may not agree with them on all the issues.”

Grenn put it in perspective from the point of view of someone running for office.

“Now I have to talk to everyone in my neighborhood, everyone in my part of the state, because I can’t just write them off,” he said, “I want to earn that second-place vote from you because that might make the difference in me actually winning.”

Not everyone feels the same way about this form of voting in elections. Generally, supporters come from the left-leaning side of the aisle.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, considers this form of voting to be a ‘scheme to disconnect elections from issues,’ ‘obscures true debates and issue-driven dialogs,’ and ‘disenfranchises voters.’

Where it stands right now, Grenn said the ABE initiative has been rejected by the state of Alaska because it encompasses more than one change.

“The state’s issue with the ballot initiative is not about the content of the initiative, but the single-subject rule,” he said, “which is something that has been deemed for decades now in our state constitution and legislative process of being fairly broad.”

Grenn said the Superior Court ruled in favor of the initiative group and said that the three issues on the ballot initiative are lawful. The state has since appealed that decision.

The second aspect of the ABE initiative is to switch Alaska from a closed primary system for state elections to an open primary. That means that you can vote for candidates who are running under a different party than you’re registered for. Grenn said that means come time for the primaries, you would have a ballot with all the candidates’ names to select from.

Grenn said the third part of the initiative is to put an end to large ‘dark-money’ donations, by requiring any candidate receiving a donation of more than $2,000 to make that information public within 24 hours. That’s disclosing the amount and the donor.

Grenn said now the initiative is in the process of collecting over 28,501 signatures from across the state by January 21, 2020 to get it on the ballot.

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