ICYMI: Alaska's Ranked-Choice Voting Fail

Last month, Democrat Mary Peltola won a special election to fill the remainder of the late Alaska Congressman Don Young's term. But as Senator Tom Cotton pointed out, this was no ordinary election. Peltola reigned victorious, despite Republican candidates winning 60% of the vote, due to the use of ranked-choice voting (RCV).

As Fox News explains, the use of RCV places all of the candidates on a single ballot regardless of party and utilizes a process of elimination:

The special general election for the vacant seat in Alaska, which was held on Aug. 16, used ranked-choice voting, a measure approved by Alaska residents in 2020 that dismissed the state's previous election method consisting of partisan elections ahead of general elections. Due to the measure's approval, all candidates in the special election appeared on the same ballot.

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference on their ballots. Should one candidate receive a majority of first-preference votes, that individual is declared the winner in the race. However, if no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. Following the elimination of the candidate who received the least amount of first-preference votes, voters' second-preference choices are evaluated and a new tally is established to determine whether a candidate in the race has received a majority of the vote. That process is repeated until a candidate wins a majority of the vote.

This system causes confusion among voters, opens up the voting system to abuse, and disenfranchises voters. A research paper published by the Foundation for Government Accountability dubs RCV a "disaster in disguise":

In traditional elections, every submitted ballot that follows the instructions is counted towards the result, but this isn’t the case with RCV.

“Exhausted ballots” in RCV elections do not count towards the final tally. While many RCV ballots are thrown out due to voter error in following convoluted instructions, ballots that follow the instructions to the letter can also be thrown away because the voter ranked candidates who are no longer in contention. As candidates are eliminated through multiple rounds of tabulation, voters have their ballots exhausted if they only ranked candidates that have been removed during successive rounds.

In other words, for a voter’s voice to fully count in every round of an RCV election, he must vote for all candidates on the ballot, even those he may not support.

Because of ballot exhaustion, winners of RCV races do not necessarily represent the choice of all voters who participated. RCV claims to protect majority rule, but in reality, RCV creates an artificial majority by eliminating the votes of the lowest-scoring candidates during successive tabulations. One study of Maine elections found that, of 98 recent RCV elections, 60 percent of RCV victors did not win by a majority of the total votes cast.

To make matters worse, Alaska combines its RCV system with jungle primaries. This is why there were multiple Republicans on the special election ballot in the first place: 

[I]n a jungle primary, all the candidates from both parties — or any third-party or independent candidates — run in a single primary open to all voters, and the top finishers go on to the next round. . .

What is unique about the new Alaska system is that it uses an all-parties jungle primary and then runs a general election among the top four vote-getters in that primary, regardless of party.

The results of Alaska's special election should serve as a warning to other states and lead them away from adopting ranked-choice voting.