Alaska Becomes First In The Nation to Approve Top-4 Primary with Ranked Choice Voting

Created: 17 November, 2020
Updated: 14 August, 2022
3 min read

Alaska voters sent a clear message to state officials in the 2020 election: they want elections that better serve the interests of voters, and by doing so made history as the first state to approve a top-four nonpartisan primary with ranked choice voting in the general election. 

Ballot Measure 2 for Better Elections trailed in the early vote count. However, after two weeks of counting absentee ballots, it ended up ahead by a percentage point of the vote as the trends shifted more and more to its favor. AP called the race on Tuesday, November 17.

“This is a victory for all Alaskans regardless of their political leaning. We now have an electoral system that lives up to Alaska’s independent streak by saying ‘to hell with politics let’s do what is right for Alaska’.” said Yes on 2 campaign manager Shea Siegert.

Alaska is now required to use a nonpartisan primary system where all voters and candidates, regardless of party, participate on a single primary ballot. The top four vote-getters then move on to the general election where voters will rank candidates in order of preference.

Ballot Measure 2 also has provisions to end dark money in the political process, particularly from out-of-state sources. 

“Whether they supported Ballot Measure 2 or not, all Alaskans should be proud today.  This is what ‘We the people’ means – that voters, not the parties, have the power to chart our state’s future,” said Scott Kendall, counsel for the Yes on 2 campaign.

“These reforms will make our politicians answerable to the voters.  They will also reward, rather than punish, bipartisanship. The nation’s greatest state now has the nation’s best election system, and as a result Alaska’s brightest days lie ahead.”

Alaska’s Ballot Measure 2 was the only comprehensive better elections amendment that combined a nonpartisan primary with ranked choice voting in the general election. Similar amendments were proposed in North Dakota and Arkansas, but despite getting enough signatures to appear on the ballot, they were removed by the courts.

Ballot Measure 2 also didn’t have an easy time getting to November. Despite being certified for the ballot in January, the state’s lieutenant governor and the Division of Elections challenged it on the constitutional requirement that voter referendums deal in a single subject. The Alaska Supreme Court cleared the initiative for the ballot in June, ruling that the 3 proposals in the amendment fell under the broad single subject of “election reform.” 

Justice Daniel Winfree wrote that the “State asks us to put our judicial thumb on the scale to limit the people’s constitutional check against legislative inaction,” which the court refused to do.

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The nonpartisan top-four primary under Ballot Measure 2 is a major shift from the state’s current closed partisan process, which forces voters to affiliate with a party in order to have a meaningful say in elections. These primaries have been marred by low turnout while leaving 62% of voters registered unaffiliated voters out in the cold.

That’s right, the closed primary in Alaska shut out an overwhelming majority of voters in order to serve the interests of private political parties,  

It is worth noting that Alaska used to have a blanket primary system, where all voters had a chance to vote in any party’s primary in each race. However, this primary system was ruled unconstitutional in California Democratic Party v. Jones in 2000.

Now, all registered voters in the state have an equal opportunity to participate and have a meaningful say in the process. At the same time, Ballot Measure 2 also implements the use of ranked choice voting in the general election, which guarantees majority winners, and addresses the growing concern over the influence of money in politics. 

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