EXPLAINER: How Alaska’s New Unique Electoral System Works – Reuters

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Elections in Alaska will be held for the first time this year under a unique new system that does away with party primaries and uses preferential-choice voting in general elections.

The Alaska Supreme Court last week upheld the system, narrowly approved by voters in 2020.

It calls for an open primary in which all candidates of a given race appear on the ballot, regardless of party affiliation, followed by a ranked vote in the general election. No other state conducts its elections with this combination, which applies to both state and federal races.

Supporters hope the new system will help ease partisan resentments and encourage civility and cooperation among elected officials. Critics fear it will dilute the power of political parties or that minor party candidates will be drowned out. Some are also skeptical that the system will work as expected.

A sponsor of the initiative, former independent state legislator Jason Grenn, said Alaska was a test case for similar efforts being considered in Nevada and elsewhere.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in Alaska:

HOW DOES THE PROCESS WORK?

In the past, the winners of each party’s respective primaries qualified for the general election.

Under the new system, there will be one ballot, available to all registered voters, with each candidate in a given race. The first four voters, regardless of political affiliation, go to the general election. Voters in the general election can then rank the candidates in order of preference.

A consensus winner is selected if no one wins more than 50% of the top picks.

Another change: the candidates for the positions of governor and lieutenant-governor will team up from the start. Previously, candidates for each office stood separately for the primary and the winners of each party primary were paired for the general election.

Maine uses preferential voting for state-level primaries and for federal offices only in general elections.

Preferential voting is also used in a number of cities for local elections, including New York.

WHICH RACES ARE AFFECTED IN ALASKA?

All state and federal races are subject to the new rules. That includes this year’s races for the U.S. Senate, Alaska’s only seat in the U.S. House, its governorships and lieutenant governorships, and its legislative seats.

Some saw the system as potentially helping Republican U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has a reputation as a moderate and has at times disagreed with Alaskan party leaders, including in her criticism of the former president. Donald Trump.

Murkowski lost his party’s primary to Tea Party candidate Joe Miller in 2010, but won the general election with a written campaign. She easily won her primary in 2016, the year Trump was elected.

Trump has backed Republican Kelly Tshibaka for this year’s Senate race, and Tshibaka has been endorsed by state party leaders.

Murkowski, in announcing her re-election bid in November, said the strength she offers is that “for me, it’s always been about reaching out to all Alaskans,” not just Republicans. She said she hopes one of the results of the system is that candidates could be more civil towards each other.

WHY DO THIS?

Scott Kendall, an attorney who helped draft the Alaska ballot initiative, said the new system gives voters choices. The reason for ranked voting is to avoid “distorted” results, he said.

If there were four candidates in the previous system, “you can imagine somebody winning with 28% of the vote and being a very extreme individual because three moderates here split the rest of the votes,” Kendall said.

“You don’t want a situation where you get a candidate way outside the norm because a small group backed him up. So it’s to get that candidate moderate – to prevent parties from being some sort of artificial guardian of our choices,” he said.

The hope is that more work will be done, especially in the state legislature, he said.

The system was unsuccessfully challenged by a group that included Anchorage attorney Kenneth Jacobus; Scott Kohlhaas, a libertarian who made a failed bid for State House in 2020; Bob Bird, chairman of the Alaska Independence Party; and the bird festival.

They argued, in part, that candidates from smaller parties will “get lost in the mix” of names on the ballot. They also said the open primary forces parties to accept candidates they “want to or not”.