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Alaskans follow Maine’s lead on ranked-choice voting

Steve Collins :: Press Herald

An old political maxim held that “as Maine goes, so goes the nation.”

This year at least, it’s not the whole nation. It’s just Alaska.

Maine will no longer be the only state to use ranked-choice voting to decide its elections after Alaskan voters narrowly approved a ballot question this month that restricts dark money, shifts to open primaries and adopts ranked-choice voting.

“Voters in the red state of Alaska have followed the lead of voters in the purple state of Maine in adopting ranked-choice voting because we all want more choice and more voice in our elections,” said state Rep.-elect Kyle Bailey, a Gorham Democrat who managed the campaigns for Maine’s first-in-the-nation ranked-choice voting law.

The Associated Press called the election Tuesday with results showing a 50.5-49.5 margin in favor of the new system.

“We’re coming in from the corners,” joked Rob Richie, president of the Maryland-based nonprofit Fair Vote that has long pushed the issue. “Next up: Hawaii and Florida!”

Sample ballot showing the ranked-choice voting referendum question that voters in Alaska decided in a close election this month. Alaska Division of Elections

Richie said Tuesday he is confident “in the inevitably of progress for ranked-choice voting” given its increasing visibility and support.

“Fundamentally, ranked choice voting is a step up from single-choice voting whenever we have more than two choices,” Richie said. “That argument will take hold. The path may not always be linear, but I do think it will increasingly progress legislatively as elected officials accept its commonsense merits.”

Alaska’s new way of running elections will be different than the way Maine does it.

Part of the ballot question that voters in Alaska approved includes a single, all-party primary for every state office. The top four finishers get to move on to a ranked-choice general election.

“This is a victory for all Alaskans regardless of their political leaning,” Shea Siegert, campaign manager of Yes on 2 for Better Elections, said in a prepared statement. “We now have an electoral system that lives up to Alaska’s independent streak by saying ‘to hell with politics let’s do what is right for Alaska’.”

Scott Kendall, the campaign’s counsel, said the revisions approved by Alaskans “are not just good for voters, they are also good for elected officials who are tired of the constant partisan bickering that dominates their lives.”

“This is what ‘We the people’ means — that voters, not the parties, have the power to chart our state’s future,” Kendall said.

“Great milestone!” tweeted the national Green Party, calling for ranked-choice voting to expand “coast to coast” in the years ahead.

Massachusetts voters weren’t as keen to toss out the old system. They shot down a proposal to shift to Maine’s voting system by a 55-45 margin.

Voters in six cities, though, including Boulder, Colorado, adopted ranked-choice voting on Election Day for future races.

In St. Louis, voters endorsed a different election reform system called approval voting.

It changed the longstanding plurality voting system there, still used in most U.S. elections, to an approval voting system in which people vote for any candidates they like. A runoff is then held between the two candidates who earn the most likes.

Ranked-choice voting advocates include minor parties such as the Greens and Libertarians who believe it opens the door for many more people to take their side in elections because it eliminates the “spoiler effect” that causes some to side with mainstream politicians because they don’t want to help another contender they dislike win a close race.

Maine’s ranked-choice voting, first used in 2018, allows voters to rank candidates in primaries or for federal office so that those who wind up casting their ballots for anyone other than the top can have their vote redistributed to someone who’s still in the running.

Andrew Yang, one of the unsuccessful candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, said recently that ranked-choice voting helps resolve races while decreasing political polarization.

If Georgia had it, he said on Twitter, it would not be “the center of the political universe for the next two months with two special Senate races” because voters would already have indicated which candidates they most wanted.

Not everybody is convinced, however, that ranked-choice voting is a better option.

The Yes on 2 Campaign in Massachusetts, which pushed for ranked-choice voting, said it lost despite working for several years to follow in Maine’s footsteps.

“We are obviously deeply disappointed,” campaign manager Cara Brown McCormick said in a prepared statement. “We were attempting to do something historic in Massachusetts and fell short, but the incredible groundswell of support from volunteers and reformers that assembled behind this campaign is reason enough to stay optimistic about the future of our democracy.”

Republican Party officials in Maine and Alaska have expressed vehement opposition to the new voting system.

Some GOP leaders are having second thoughts.

In the Nov. 3 election, Republican President Donald Trump might have had a shot at winning if ranked-choice voting had been in place in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia — all states that Democrat Joe Biden won by less than the tallies racked up by the Libertarian Party’s Jo Jorgensen.

Next year’s New York City mayoral race will use ranked-choice voting, another high visibility change that may help spur still other cities and states to give it a try.

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