Alaska is a perennial afterthought when it comes to the national political landscape. It hasn’t voted Democratic in a presidential election since 1964, and neither major party candidate campaigned in the state in 2020. But despite this reputation, Alaska is at the forefront of a revolution in American politics with its new electoral system that utilizes nonpartisan primaries and ranked-choice voting (RCV), which stands as the best electoral system in the nation.
The state adopted this system of ranked choice voting in November 2020 through Measure 2, a ballot measure where the public directly voted on the proposed RCV law. Despite famous “fair election” supporter Donald Trump winning the state by 10 percentage points, Measure 2 prevailed and ushered in a new era in Alaska elections.
Here’s the basic explanation of how this system works: It starts off with a nonpartisan blanket primary where all candidates are placed on the same ballot, regardless of party affiliation. Voters choose one candidate each, and the four candidates with the most votes advance to the general election. On the general election ballot, voters pick a candidate as their first choice and then rank the rest of the candidates. If none of the candidates gets a majority of the vote in the first round of voting, votes are transferred from the candidate with the fewest votes to whoever these voters picked as their second choice. This continues until one candidate has received a majority of the vote, therefore winning the election.
So what’s so great about this system? First off, having a nonpartisan blanket primary is a massive upgrade from regular partisan primaries. Partisan primaries always have lower turnout than general elections, and consist of the most ideologically-driven voters. In order to win, candidates will tailor their campaigns so they can be viewed as the most liberal or most conservative to this voting group. This results in hardline partisans who don’t represent the views of the majority of their constituents winning their party’s nomination.
The nonpartisan blanket primary used in Alaska avoids these problems. Since the primary is nonpartisan, it is open for anybody to vote in, regardless of affiliation. This encourages independents and moderates to participate, resulting in a voter turnout that better reflects the electorate than partisan primaries do.
“Additionally, since candidates don’t have to win the nomination of a particular party, they can take a wide range of political positions without having to tow the party line. This results in candidates who represent a wide range of ideas across the political spectrum and give voters plenty of candidates to choose from.”
Though Alaska isn’t the first state to use a nonpartisan blanket primary (California and Washington use this as well), the Last Frontier is unique because it sends four candidates instead of two to the general election. Having four candidates on the ballot encourages more people to vote, and increased voter turnout is never a bad thing. The more candidates, the better!
But the greatness of this system also comes from the use of ranked-choice voting. Using RCV ensures that the winning candidate gets a majority of the vote, as there are too many elections where the winning candidate wins with only a plurality of the vote — meaning the majority of the electorate actually voted against that candidate. And like the nonpartisan primary, having the ability to rank candidate preferences also increases voter turnout, resulting in a more balanced electorate.
It’s important to note that while RCV has been used at the local level across the country, Alaska is only one of two states to use the system at a statewide level, with the other state being Maine.
Though Alaska isn’t the first state to use RCV and nonpartisan primaries, it is the first state to use both of these together at a statewide level. By combining them, the state has cemented itself as a leader in election turnout and voting power. Alaskan voters are now in control more than anyone else in the nation with respect to who they think their elected officials should be, and they are freed from the constraints of radical nominees put forward by primaries.
Gone are the days where Alaska hides in the background of the national landscape. Until other states adopt this new system, Alaska should remain at the forefront of voting.
Correction: A previously published version of this article was missing the first paragraph. The article has since been updated.
A very well-written article clearly explaining the significant advantages of nonpartisan blanket (open) primaries, of ranked-choice voting, and Alaska’s leadership in implementing them. Only those skeptical of democracy in general or those who consider political party control of elections the top priority could possibly be opposed to these election reforms. Unfortunately there are more than a few such folks. Hopefully more articles like this one and more states like Alaska are in our political future.