Alaska's Ranked Choice Voting Journey
Similarly to Maine, Alaska faced numerous gubernatorial elections where the winner didn't get a majority vote. However, the Alaska Legislature decided to take action to explore voting options. In fact, the legislature referred Measure 1, the Alaska Automatic Runoff Voting Initiative, to voters in the 2002 August primary. Unfortunately, the measure was defeated 63.7% to 36.3%, with much of the opposition coming from the now-supportive League of Women Voters. Subsequent RCV bills introduced in the legislature in the following decade were ignored.
Still, numerous elections from gubernatorial to congressional to state legislative seats were still won by people who got less than a majority of the vote, leading to Alaskans feeling increasingly displeased with their politicians and political system.
The Arduous Task of Passing An Initiative
Ultimately, this resulted in Alaskans for Better Elections filing an initiative in mid-2019 to enact a final four ranked-choice voting system. The group mobilized signature gatherers in October 2019 after a successful legal fight surrounding the state's single-subject rule with Lt. Gov Kevin Meyer. In January 2020, the political group turned in more than 41,000 signatures, blowing past the 28,501 required. The initiative was then placed on the ballot as Alaska Ballot Measure 2. Still, Alaskans for Better Elections now had the arduous task of educating and convincing voters to back this new system.
The Path to Victory: Finding Common Ground
Sitting down with former Executive Director for Alaskans for Better Elections and former state Rep. Jason Grenn (I-Anchorage) on the RCV Roundtable podcast, I asked how the group was successful in such a geographically vast state with diverse indigenous communities. He credited much of the campaign's success to the fact that "this reform is truly nonpartisan. During the campaign, we had other groups like Alaskan Natives for Better Elections and Fisherman for Better Elections. It wasn't Republicans or Democrats for Better Elections. It just was different groups of Alaskans who wanted to change the system to have more power in their vote."
Ultimately, their strategy of building a big tent coalition and framing the reform as pro-voter had worked as Alaska Ballot Measure 2 passed in the 2020 elections with 50.55% to 49.45%, a margin of less than 4,000 votes. After the initiative's passage, the group pivoted to start a massive education campaign so that all Alaskans would be able to understand the new system before the 2022 elections. Grenn explained that they had to educate any and every single group that had an audience in Alaska so that voters would feel confident voting with this new system: "In 2021 alone, I gave 300 presentations across the state!" Alaskans ultimately gave good marks to the system, as 62% supported the new primary system, and 85% found the new system simple.
It's Working, But The Work Isn't Done
In 2022, Alaskans used their final four RCV system for the first time, resulting in bipartisan coalitions governing in the Alaska State Senate and House and a wide range of politicians from different political ideologies. RCV is working for Alaskans!
There remain threats to Alaska's RCV elections as the anti-RCV group, Alaskans for Honest Elections, has announced they are at 80% of the signatures needed for a repeal initiative. However, the political group has been caught up in campaign finance complaints alleging the group formed a church to bypass disclosure laws. However, Grenn believes that Alaskans won't vote to repeal RCV, "Once presented with the facts and once presented with their reflection of how the system works for them, I think Alaskans will reject any repeal to this new system."
In a matter of four years, the nation now has two states with RCV. In 2024, that number could double, so keep your eyes peeled to find out what states will be voting on RCV in the next blog post!
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.