Sanders or… ? Here’s how to participate in Alaska’s Democratic presidential primary

If you want to automatically receive the ballot for the Alaska Democratic Party’s presidential primary in the mail, today’s the last day to register with the party.

The Alaska Democratic Party has done away with the traditional caucus format for its party-run April 4 primary and is making some pretty significant changes to how delegates will be awarded. Not only will most of the voting be done through mail-in ballots, but the primary will also implement ranked-choice voting.

Alaska has 19 delegates to the Democratic National Convention with 15 that are pledge based on the results of the primary and four that are unpledged. In 2016, Alaska came in only second to Bernie Sanders’ home state of Vermont in terms of overall support for the candidate. Alaska awarded 14 delegates to Sanders and 4 to Hillary Clinton.

This year, though, has a better chance at having a bigger field when Alaskans go to vote.

Though today is the final day to register as a Democrat to automatically receive a by-mail ballot, it doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Here’s a rundown of the relevant deadlines:

  • 18 (That’s today): Register as a Democrat to automatically receive a by-mail ballot
  • 24: The final day to request an absentee by-mail ballot if you missed the registration deadline. (You’ll still need to be a registered Democrat).
  • March 6: Mail-in ballots will be sent to voters
  • March 24: Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by this date in order to be counted.
  • April 4: Last-chance in-person voting centers will be open in several locations around the state from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in case you forgot to mail in your ballot.
  • 11:30 p.m., April 4: Results will be released on the Alaska Democratic Party’s website.
  • April 18: Local House Districts will hold caucuses to select officers and delegates to the state convention.
  • May 15-17: The Alaska Democratic Party will hold its state convention in Fairbanks to select its delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

Ranked-choice voting

Alaska’s Democratic presidential primary voters will also get a chance to see how ranked-choice voting works in action. The method could be extended to state elections if voters approve the Better Elections initiative later this year.

The way it works is voters will be asked to rank the candidates from first to fifth choice. When votes are calculated, any candidate with above 15 percent of the first-choice votes will automatically win delegates. The candidate with the fewest first-choice votes under that 15 percent threshold will be eliminated and their voters will be divvied up based on their second-choice votes.

It will continue like this until all candidates under 15 percent are eliminated and delegates will be awarded on this final vote total.

Alaska is one of four states that will be using ranked-choice voting in the 2020 primary elections. The ide a behind it is that it encourages voters to vote however they want and avoid strategic voting where voters might pick their least-bad option in order to avoid electing a candidate they really don’t want.

The Better Elections initiative is seeking to extend ranked-choice voting to Alaska’s general elections. The impact of the initiative would be to require a candidate receive at least 50 percent of the vote to win an election.

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