Pioneer States: Inside Alaska's and Maine's Successful RCV Movements

"When I first tried to talk to people about ranked-choice voting (RCV), people laughed at me. They thought it was cute and funny," said the former Maine state Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) when she first started organizing to get RCV on the Maine ballot. Fast forward to today, Maine has sparked a national movement for better elections after passing not just one but two initiatives that implemented RCV in federal elections for the first time in US history. 

Alaskans soon followed after passing Alaska Measure 2 during the 2020 election. Alaska's measure was unique in replacing partisan primaries with a final four pick-one primary where all candidates, regardless of party, would run on the same primary ballot. The top four candidates would advance to the general election, with the winner elected by RCV. Their system of RCV has heavily influenced other states as Nevadans will vote (again) in 2024 on their similar Final Five RCV electoral system. 

However, the rise of national and state ranked-choice voting movements would only exist with the decades of grassroots organizing it took to get Alaska and Maine to enact RCV. So how did these two states eventually make RCV a reality? 

The Power of the Citizen's Initiative

First, one must understand the unique political tools available in Alaska and Maine. These states have citizen initiative processes, just like here in Arizona. However, not only can the residents in each state propose new statutes and constitutional amendments, but residents can also launch veto initiatives to block state laws they disagree with. These processes give residents more power within their state's political system, allowing them to bypass their legislators if residents believe they aren't sufficiently doing their jobs. 

Leveraging Legislative Processes

In Alaska, for an initiative to qualify for the ballot, the signature minimum requirement is 10 percent of the total number of ballots cast in the previous general election. The minimum requirement is similar in Maine, but the signature requirement is based on the votes in the previous gubernatorial election. Additionally, Mainers have the unique ability to collect signatures at polling places on election day. Pro-RCV groups in each state, Alaskans for Better Elections and the Committee for Ranked-Choice Voting, eventually used these processes to pass RCV after their state governments consistently stalled and failed to take action on RCV bills in their legislatures. In fact, the first introduction of an RCV bill in the Maine state legislature happened in 2001, over twenty years ago! Despite the early setbacks, supporters in each state remained resilient.

Stay tuned for part two of Taking the First Jump: Inside Alaska’s and Maine’s Successful RCV Movements, which delves into Maine's innovative bottom-up approach to RCV campaigns!


About the author: Auston Collings is a Tucson native who works as a Regional Grassroots Organizer at Voter Choice Arizona. He is a rising sophomore at Yale University majoring in Environmental Studies.