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Today’s the day that the Alaska Division of Elections will finally tabulate the results from the special election for the U.S. House, the state’s first ever race conducted under the new open primary and ranked choice voting system approved by voters. We’ll be spared from having to hit refresh on our browsers all day with the Division’s announcement that they’ll be holding a livestream to conduct the RCV tabulation at 4 p.m. today on Facebook, which you will be able to see here. From the Division of Elections:
You do not need a Facebook account to view the livestream. Tabulation is happening at the Director’s Office in Juneau. Viewers will be able to see round by round tabulation and the final unofficial results. Results reports will not be available on the website at the exact moment tabulation happens. We have to generate and export the reports then upload them to the site. We will email media to let you know once they are published on our site.
There was a moment where the candidates Democrat Mary Peltola and Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich would’ve shared stage for a forum at the same time as the results were being announced but that event—a forum by the Alaska Oil and Gas Association—has been shortened and they’ll be playing the stream in the ballroom.
As the race stands, Democrat Mary Peltola is in first place with 39.64% of the first-place votes to former Republican Gov. Sarah Palin’s 30.94% of the votes and Republican Nick Begich’s 27.84% of the vote. Under the RCV tabulation, the 1.57% of write-in votes will be the first to be redistributed according to voters’ later rankings followed by the Begich votes.
The race will come down to how those voters handled their later rankings and whether they ranked Palin, Peltola or simply left the ballot blank. Peltola’s big lead puts her in a good spot, but Begich voters could help push Palin over the finish line for what Rob Richie, the President and CEO of FairVote, said during a call with reporters on Monday would be a rare comeback victory.
“You don’t see comeback wins very often with ranked choice voting. In fact, if you look at all the ranked choice voting contests, about 500-plus, only 4% had a comeback win,” he said. “But when you do have a comeback win, it actually makes sense. There’s a fracture of a voting majority and the ranked choice ballot mechanism allows that fracturing to heal and for voters to get the outcome that most of them want.”
He said that would be the prime case here where two Republicans have a combined majority of the votes, but that it’ll come down to just how much the candidates took advantage of the ranked choice system. That kind of messaging, he said, not only directs a candidate’s voters to rank other candidates but invites other candidates’ voters to rank them second.
“It does mean the candidates have to make use of the opportunity,” he said. “It’s fascinating to see how it plays out here. The candidate who is seemingly best positioned to be helped by ranked choice voting, Sarah Palin, also said she didn’t rank.”
The news comes as Alaskans for Better Elections, the independent advocacy group supporting the rollout, released polling data reviewing Alaskans’ thoughts on the new system. The main takeaways:
- The polling found that 85% of Alaskans found the process of ranked choice voting to be “simple,” with similarly strong numbers found across major minority groups (with at least 80% finding it “simple”). Only 6% of respondents found it “very difficult.”
- Outreach on instructions also seemed to be effective this year with 95% of respondents reporting receiving instructions on how to rank, with the outreach to minority groups being similarly high at 92%. A majority got something in the mail, but TV, radio and social media were strong sources of information. Interestingly, about a quarter of respondents said they talked to friends or family about ranking.
- Overall, 62% of respondents said they favor or strongly favored the new election system with its open primary and ranked choice general election.
With talk already growing about efforts to overturn the measure—largely because the elections didn’t go how they wanted—the polling shows there’s an even larger majority of people who support the new system than who voted to approve it in 2020. With 85% of respondents calling it “simple,” it also goes a long way to battling all the talk that the system is “confusing” to voters.
But as far as importance for today’s action goes, 33% of respondents said they only ranked one candidate in the U.S. Special Election. Two thirds of respondents, meanwhile, said they either ranked two candidates (38%) or three candidates (28%). The polling, unfortunately, doesn’t dig into whose voters were ranking and how, so we’ll have to keep waiting.
For more on the polling, check out the released results here.