Survey: Ranked Choice Voting Will Protect Voter Preferences in AK Elections

Alaska will use ranked choice voting (RCV) for the first time in statewide elections in the upcoming August 16 special election and November general elections. Recent polling shows that without RCV the winners for US House and Senate would have been the least preferred candidates among all voters.

Ranked choice voting gives voters the option of ranking candidates in order of preference (1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd choice, etc.). If no candidate gets over 50% of the vote, an instant runoff is triggered that eliminates the last place candidate and applies their voters’ next choices to the results.

The process continues with subsequent rounds of runoff as needed until a candidate gets over 50% of the vote.

Survey Points to Palin Losing US House Race

According to Alaska Survey Research, the August 16 special election to be the late Don Young’s interim replacement in the US House will likely not be decided in a single round of vote tabulation. Democrat Mary Peltola and Republicans Sarah Palin and Nicholas Begich are vying for the contested seat.

In Round 1, Peltola was selected by 40% of survey takers, Begich got 31% of the vote, and Palin got 29%. If these results hold, Palin would be eliminated in the second round and her voters’ second choices would be applied to the results. They would be enough to push Begich well over the 50% threshold (he took 57% among survey takers in Round 2).

Begich wins.

The special election only determines who fills the vacant congressional seat until the end of current term. Another election will be held in November to decide who will represent the state in the US House for the next two years.

The general election for Alaska’s congressional seat will be a four-way race between Peltola, Palin, Begich, and Republican Tara Sweeney. The survey shows the potential for an additional runoff round, but the result would be the same: Begich is the consensus favorite.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Incumbency in Jeopardy

A much closer race is developing for the US Senate. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is defending her seat against Republican Kelly Tshibaka, Democrat Patricia Chesbro, and Alaska Independence candidate Dustin Darden -- the three candidates who (along with her) are expected to advance to the November election after the August 16 primary.

The survey results show Tshibaka took a plurality of the vote with 42% of first-choice selections, compared to Murkowski’s 35%. Tshibaka, however, was not the preferred candidate among all voters surveyed.

In Round 2, Darden was eliminated (garnering only 4.6% of first selections). This didn't change the results much, so a third runoff round was needed. When Chesbro voters were asked who they preferred between Murkowski and Tshibaka, most of them chose Murkowski.

The survey showed Murkowski won the third round with 52% of the vote – an outcome so close that even a slight difference in voter turnout compared to what was sampled in the survey could spell trouble for Murkowski.

Another important variable is how many voters take advantage of ranked choice voting. In Alaska Survey Research, most respondents ranked the candidates. There was only a 46 vote drop-off in the totals between Round 1 and Round 3.

Regardless of who the winner is, ranked choice voting will better ensure that the candidates selected to represent Alaska in the US House and Senate will be the consensus candidate among all voters who participate in the elections -- not just who is preferred by one specific group of voters.