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Ranked-Choice Voting Is Democrats’ Next Assault on Elections

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AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

It didn't take long for the outcome in Alaska’s special general election to become the Democrats’ new shiny thing that must be instituted nationwide in order to “preserve democracy” or whatever it is they’re always harping on about in their norm-busting campaign to rig the levers of power to favor their whims. 

Sarah Palin losing to Democrat Mary Peltola in the second round of Alaska’s newly instituted ranked-choice election system was all the proof of concept they needed to decide they had a new way to ensure their unpopular candidates could beat Republicans in otherwise red states and districts. Remember: the special primary in Alaska saw Palin come in first place with more than 25 percent of the votes in a field of more than 40 candidates while Peltola barely cracked ten percent. 

Resistance Twitter was aflutter with blue-check liberals heralding Peltola's win as proof that ranked-choice voting must now be instituted nationwide, with some even saying the quiet part out loud about it being used as a means to defeat conservatives at the ballot box. Apparently it isn't enough to oppose election integrity laws by smearing their overwhelmingly popular protections as "Jim Crow 2.0" anymore, they want to change the way Americans vote entirely. 

Under the normal and almost universal method of electing candidates in the U.S., the ballot totals tabulated in Alaska’s wonky new way of voting suggest that Palin would have won the special primary and special general elections to serve out the remainder of late Rep. Don Young’s term and likely go on to win the normal general election in November. But thanks to ranked-choice voting, a Democrat is headed to Washington from Alaska’s at-large district for the first time since 1973. 

In the first round of voting in the special general election, Republicans won the seat by more than 55 to 39. There’s been much said about candidate quality — including from Mitch McConnell and his ilk — but again, Palin presumably would have won a normal head-to-head race in this cycle without ranked-choice voting.

How did Alaska get this mess? Well, through a ballot question in 2020 that is heralded by ranked-choice proponents as the supposed will of Alaska voters. But it almost didn’t happen — the final tally from 2020 showed the question getting approved by just 50.55 percent and a margin of some 3,700 votes. 

Ranked-choice voting had, before Alaska, been mostly a Democrat adventure in tinkering around with elections. Places like New York City, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and San Francisco were among its early municipal adopters along with the state of Maine. 

In Alaska, ranked-choice voting was helped to fruition by establishment Republicans who wanted to protect vulnerable incumbent U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski. According to OpenSecrets, "the campaign to pass Measure 2 was spearheaded by lawyer Scott Kendall, who has worked for Murkowski’s campaigns before." Poynter also noted that "Shea Siegert, who was formerly campaign manager for Alaskans for Better Elections" — the group that spearheaded the ranked-choice referendum — "now works for Murkowski’s campaign."

For them, ranked-choice voting presented an opportunity to let not just supporters of the GOP establishment vote for Murkowski, but Democrats as well who could have a clean conscience of voting for their party’s nominee while giving the Republican incumbent the boost she’ll likely need to fend off her conservative challenger in subsequent rounds of ballot reallocations under the ranked-choice system.

A Project Veritas sting caught Murkowski campaign aides saying that the vulnerable incumbent’s key to retaining her seat was Ballot Question 2, the provision that instituted ranked-choice voting in Alaska. It looks like, come November, their successful push for ranked-choice voting may in fact be the key to limping Murkowski across the finish line to another term in Congress’ upper chamber.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas responded to Wednesday's electoral outcome by noting that “60% of Alaska voters voted for a Republican, but thanks to a convoluted process and ballot exhaustion—which disenfranchises voters—a Democrat ‘won.’ Ranked-choice voting is a scam to rig elections,” he added. 

The Foundation for Government Accountability has explained more about the issues caused by ranked-choice voting, including so-called “ballot exhaustion” which “occurs when a voter overvotes, undervotes, or only ranks candidates that are no longer in contention and the voter’s ballot does not count toward the end result.”

A voter not knowing whether their ballot will actually be counted, of course, undermines their confidence and chills overall voter participation. By complicating voting, the process also confuses voters with an a-typical ballot that requires them to vote for a number of candidates they may not actually support for the office they’re seeking. But don't just take the FGA's word for it, even Alaska voters who supported the eventual Democrat winner in the special U.S. House race expressed their disdain for ranked-choice voting that made their candidate’s win possible. “I think the ranked choice thing is ridiculous, and I think most voters didn’t know what the heck they were voting for,” said one Peltola supporter. 

What’s more, ranked-choice voting delays election results for, in Alaska’s case, weeks — which, fair or unfair, further undermines voters’ trust in the outcomes. Ranked-choice voting also erodes the idea of “one person, one vote” by allowing one person to have votes that count toward multiple candidates in an election — or not at all in the case of ballot exhaustion. 

With a Democrat victory in Alaska’s first run at conducting a ranked-choice election, it’s likely that Democrats are going to seize on the alleged “reform” and work to institute ranked-choice voting in other states in an attempt to dilute Republican votes or push establishment centrists ahead of conservative stalwarts. It’ll be another norm-shattering agenda item for them to pursue — along with their attempts to gut the filibuster, pack the Supreme Court, or abolish the Electoral College. 

Whatever Democrats can do to get ahead, they’ll try. And while ranked-choice voting is still a developing focus of their attention, it will become yet another means for them to achieve their ends: more authority for them and less power for the American people.

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