The Yes on 2 for Better Elections campaign hosted a webinar, “RCV: Easy as 1, 2, 3 (4)” to discuss one of the three electoral reforms that Ballot Measure 2 would advance: implementing ranked choice voting (RCV) in general elections. RCV is a simple and cost-effective way to increase competition and participation in our elections, encourage coalition building and cooperation among elected officials, and reduce negative campaigning.
Panelists emphasized that we rank options constantly as we make decisions throughout the day, and our elections should be no different. More choices for voters is common sense, and when candidates have to campaign to a wider constituency in order to be a voter’s 2nd or 3rd choice, campaigns become more civil. Rather than partisan bickering, candidates must focus on the issues Alaskans truly care about.
“The best thing about ranked choice voting is that it captures my preference from the top of the ticket to the bottom. Instead of forcing me to strategically choose a single candidate, I can rank candidates according to my preference and make sure my voice is more completely and clearly heard.” says Juneau resident Pat Race, a member of the Yes on 2 for Better Elections Steering Committee and illustrator who created the popular “I Voted” stickers, distributed by the Division of Elections in 2018.
Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank candidates on the ballot in order of preference: first, second, third, and fourth. If one candidate receives a majority (more than 50%) of the first-choice votes, they win. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and those votes count instantly toward the next choice on each voter’s ballot. This process repeats until one candidate has a majority.
“For me, I’m a visual guy. The way these votes are tabulated is really interesting to me, so I want to walk through that,” Race explained as he demonstrated how a voter’s ranking of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th choices would be calculated in real time. He went on to express frustration that Alaska’s voting population is not adequately represented in our legislature. While more than 63% of voters choose to identify as independent, undeclared, or unaffiliated, they make up just over 3% of the legislature in Alaska.
“The opposition makes it sound like this is a super complicated system that happens in some kind of mainframe computer system that can’t be disentangled by the human mind, and I think that’s ridiculous.” Race explained, “Ranked choice voting is a very simple system that can be audited by hand. You should have paper ballots and there is no computer magic here that can’t be reproduced and verified by a human being. It’s a straightforward system and I like it.”
Some Alaskans are already familiar with RCV, including Bob Butera, a member of FairVote Anchorage. Butera switched his party registration from nonpartisan to Democrat in order to participate in the Alaska Democratic Party’s 2020 Primary election, which used ranked choice voting to determine their presidential candidate. Nearly double the number of registered Democrats voted in this year’s Primary as compared to 2016.
This is not surprising, as ranked choice voting has been associated with increased voter participation and motivation in cities where it’s currently in use. Studies comparing turnout rates prior to and following implementation show an increase of 5-28% with the use of ranked choice voting. When voters feel like their vote matters and they’re not simply choosing between the lesser of two evils, they show up.
“I’m a civil engineer–I’m the first to admit we are a very analytical group of people. We absolutely need to understand the details.” Butera said. “After studying ranked choice voting, I found a lot to like. It’s a really simple change. There are so many positives: assuring a candidate wins majority support. Allowing voters to vote for the candidate they support instead of the one they oppose. The one I really like the best is that it encourages civil campaigns. Those who say ranked choice voting is difficult to understand, don’t give Alaska voters credit for being smart.”
Kyle Bailey, who managed Maine’s historic ballot campaign that won the nation’s first statewide ranked choice voting law in 2016, reported that “voters overwhelmingly found ranked choice voting easy to use, they thought it was simple. Voter turnout was ten percent higher than expected. People were so excited to be able to vote and rank their choices for the first time. The benefits we talk about are real, this is not an academic experiment. That’s the power of ranked choice voting, it substantively changes the conversation.”
Bailey went on to encourage the Yes on 2 for Better Elections campaign to persevere through legal challenges by special interest groups who see Ballot Measure 2 as a threat to the broken two party system.
“There are powerful political interests who oppose ranked choice voting, because it threatens some in the status quo. It threatens the ad makers, it threatens the politicians who’ve won by slicing and dicing the electorate, who don’t think they can win with 50% + 1.” In Maine, Bailey has successfully defended multiple attempts by the legislature to repeal the voter-approved law. “The effort to strengthen our democracy isn’t something we accomplish in one election or one campaign, it’s ongoing,” he said.
In addition to instituting ranked choice voting in general elections, Ballot Measure 2 would improve Alaska’s elections by creating a single unified primary ballot open to all voters and eliminating Dark Money secret spending on campaigns. Together, these common-sense updates to Alaska’s electoral process will give voters more voice, more choice, more power, and better representation from our elected officials.