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Alaskans Have Spoken: New Voting System Is Fairer, Easy, and Gives Them Better Candidates

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Created: 13 April, 2023
Updated: 22 January, 2024
3 min read

A new report from the McKinley Research Group (MRG) finds that Alaskans are generally satisfied with their new nonpartisan voting system. Not only is it simple, but they also have more confidence in their choices and that their votes matter more than in previous years.

In 2020, a majority of Alaskan voters approved a complete overhaul to how the state elects its public officials. They changed the closed primary system to a nonpartisan top-4 primary, in which all voters and candidates (regardless of party) participate on a single primary ballot and the top 4 vote-getters move on to the general election. 

It is the first nonpartisan top-four primary in the nation and is a modifier on the nonpartisan systems already in place in California and Washington state. 

Voters also adopted ranked choice voting (RCV) for the general election so the winner of a 4-person race would not be determined by a plurality, but a majority of voters while sparing taxpayers the additional costs of a runoff election. 

RCV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If a candidate does not get a majority of first choice selections, an automatic runoff is held 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 has a majority.

RCV is used in over 60 jurisdictions that are home to 16 million citizens, and voters across the country and across the political spectrum have expressed satisfaction using the alternative voting method. 

And it is no different in Alaska.

According to the MRG study, RCV education reached nearly all voters in August and November during the congressional special election and general elections, respectively. Eighty-five (85%) percent of voters in August said “it was simple or somewhat simple to vote [with] their RCV ballot”

Seventy-nine percent (79%) said the same thing about the November election.

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Only 24% of voters said they found their candidate selection in the general election to be worse under the nonpartisan primary and RCV combo. Notably, it was the lower propensity voters who showed up in the midterms that were more likely to say their choices were better.

There weren't many differences along partisan lines. Roughly the same percentage of Republican voters (about half) said their choices were better under the new system as Democratic voters, who were also given the additional options to say their choices were the same or worse.

Additionally, 55% of survey takers said their vote mattered more than in previous years, and while partisan differences were found in the responses on this matter, "a majority of voters across region, race, gender, and age” subgroups “were more likely to say their vote mattered more.”

Ask any nonpartisan election reformer what their primary goal is, and they will tell you the same thing: It is about creating better elections for voters that are more competitive, more inclusive, fairer, and give voters confidence that their vote matters. 

The number one issue that drives the decline we are seeing in confidence in elections is the feeling that no matter who a person votes for, it won't mean anything in the end. Public officials do not put voter interests first, but those of their party and associated interests.

The MRG report highlights early indicators that nonpartisan reformers are on to something and offer voters exactly what they are looking for in elections. Read the full report here.

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