Election officials called Alaska’s special election House race for Democrat Mary Peltola over 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin last week. Peltola’s victory, despite nearly 60 percent of votes cast for a Republican on all first-choice ballots, will mark the first time since 1973 that a Democrat will represent the state in the lower chamber.
Whether the August contest was Palin’s race or Republican Nick Begich’s race to lose is an open question. Whether the Republicans’ loss was a consequence of Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system, however, is no doubt, and GOP Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is the one to blame.
In 2010, Sen. Murkowski captured re-election through a triumphant write-in campaign after losing the Republican primary to a former federal magistrate who was backed by Palin. Murkowski comfortably won a third full term in 2016 but continued to antagonize the state’s Republican base with votes to oppose restrictions on abortion, preserve Obamacare, and convict President Donald Trump in his second impeachment. Murkowski also voted “present” in the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and she upset constituents when last year she served as the tie-breaker to move forward the nomination of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who has shut down state development projects.
In other words, Murkowski did not strive to win over Republicans in a state that went for Trump by 10 points in 2020. To save her seat, Murkowski operatives devised a plan to avoid a primary by radically transforming the state’s election system. The answer became ranked-choice voting, a ballot system to rig elections in favor of the incumbent.
Under the ranked-choice ballot system, the traditional partisan primary is replaced by an open-party contest where the top four candidates advance to the general election. Voters then “rank” their preferred candidates in the ensuing race. If none receives a majority, or more than 50 percent of the first-choice ballots cast, the votes are tabulated again and the lowest scoring candidate is eliminated. The losing candidate’s ballots then count toward their second-choice pick, and the process is repeated until a candidate reaches more than 50 percent of the vote. (Read more from “Alaska’s Ranked-Choice Voting Scheme Was a Plot to Save Murkowski, but It Also Doomed Palin” HERE)
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