How ranked-choice voting cut through the partisan noise, fostering a more nuanced and reasonable electoral process.
By Cliff Hamill
In a political landscape dominated by partisan strife, Alaska stands as a beacon of innovation in electoral processes. The state’s groundbreaking decision in 2020 to embrace a top-four nonpartisan primary system has had a profound impact on shaping the outcomes of elections, notably exemplified in Senator Lisa Murkowski’s successful bid for reelection in 2022. The use of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) and nonpartisan primaries has not only defied conventional political expectations but also demonstrated the potential for these reforms to revolutionize democracy.
The top-four nonpartisan primary system, approved by Alaska voters, represents a departure from traditional party-centric primaries. Under this system, all candidates for a given office, regardless of their party affiliation, compete in a single nonpartisan primary election. The top four vote-getters, irrespective of their party, advance to the general election—a crucial departure from the binary, winner-takes-all scenario that characterizes the current election process.
Murkowski’s reelection triumph in the face of formidable opposition from both the Republican Party and Trump nominee Kelly Tshibaka serves as a compelling case study. Murkowski, who notably voted to impeach President Donald Trump, navigated the political landscape with resilience, thanks in part to the top-four nonpartisan primary system. Her victory in a predominantly red state underlines the transformative potential of election reforms that prioritize representation or partisan extremism.
A key component of Alaska’s election reform is the implementation of RCV. In this system, voters rank candidates in order of preference, ensuring that a candidate must secure a majority of votes (50 percent plus 1) to win. If no candidate achieves a majority in the first round, the process enters the “instant runoff” phase, where the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and their supporters’ second-choice votes are distributed. This process continues until a candidate attains the required majority.
In the 2022 Senatorial election, Alaska witnessed the impact of RCV firsthand. Four candidates vied for the seat, with Murkowski facing off against strong Republican and Trump-backed competition. Following the initial round of RCV voting, Murkowski did not secure an outright majority. However, the subsequent instant runoff phase proved decisive. Democrat Patricia Chesbro’s elimination and the transfer of her votes to second-choice candidates tipped the scales in Murkowski’s favor. The result was not only a victory but a resounding one, with Murkowski prevailing by over 7 percent, decisively defeating both Trump and the Republican Party’s chosen nominee, Tshibaka.
Murkowski’s success is not just a personal triumph but a testament to the empowerment of voters through the adoption of Ranked Choice Voting and nonpartisan primaries. These reforms ensure that every vote counts and that candidates must appeal to a broad spectrum of voters, transcending party lines. As political polarization continues to challenge the foundations of democracy, Alaska’s election revolution serves as a compelling model for fostering a more representative electoral process nationwide. The lessons learned in the Last Frontier demonstrate that by embracing innovation, we can reshape the future of democracy and amplify the voice of every citizen.