Alaska was in the news this past week regarding the state’s new but controversial voting system.
The process is called “ranked choice voting,” where voters rank the candidates by preference: first, second, etc. Votes are based on the first choice on every ballot. If no candidate wins the first-round majority of votes; the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and another round begins.
If a voter’s first choice is eliminated, the vote goes to the second choice. This process continues until one candidate receives a majority and wins the election. The result is intended to be like a traditional runoff election, only with just one trip to the polls.
Those who are in favor of the system say it is more of a “majority rule” system. In an election with several candidates, the winner may have received less than the majority vote, and supporters say this will provide a base of at least 50% for the winner. Those in favor of the system also say it limits the effect of a spoiler candidate.
In an election with several candidates, it is possible for minor party candidates to take away votes from those candidates in one of the two major parties. Many said this was the case in the 1992 presidential election in which many said independent candidate Ross Perot took votes away from George H.W. Bush, which put Bill Clinton in the White House. Many say it happened a second time in the 2000 election, when Ralph Nader took votes away from Al Gore to elect George W. Bush president.
Finally, proponents also say it is beneficial to those in the military and those who are overseas when it becomes necessary for a runoff election. Runoffs can be eliminated with this system and it does away with voter exhaustion.
Those who oppose the system also give several reasons as to why the system is flawed. Many say voters do not understand the system and that it is too complicated, which could cause frustration and voters may not properly complete their ballots, causing their votes to be nullified.
While those in favor say it could encourage more across the aisle voting, those against the system say in today’s volatile political environment, it could cause even more division and most would not vote for those in the opposite party, anyway.
In addition, if enough voters do not give any votes to their lower choices, a candidate could still win without a majority. In Australia, which uses the system, voters are required to rank every candidate, even if they don’t want that candidate. Many see this as forcing voters to vote against their wishes or consciences.
In Alaska, the system seemed not to adequately reflect the voters’ intended wishes. Democrat Mary Peltola won the election, despite the fact that 60% of voters voted for a Republican. However, because of the ranked system, Sarah Palin and fellow Republican Nick Begich III bitterly attacked each other, which may have caused supporters in both camps to not rank the other. Overall, many Alaskans were not in favor of the new system, indicating they found it confusing and frustrating.
The traditional system seems to work best, except in the case of the Electoral College system, which provides for more fairness across the country from less populated states in the election of the president. When it comes to America’s elections, there is already enough controversy. Alaska, Maine, and the handful of cities would be better off going back to tradition.
Randy Gibson is the CEO of RDG Communications Group, LLC, and the president of Maloy PR.