By Tim Griffin
9:10 AM PT – Thursday, September 9, 2022
Alaska’s first experiment with a newly-adopted system that turns the election process on its head is a failed experiment in election management. As a result, Alaska’s voters are deprived of clear choices and clear winners.
Alaska’s new election system suffers from four major problems: late-arriving mail-in ballots, confusing ranked-choice voting, abolishment of the party primary, and election officials sitting on the final ranked-choice results for 15 days. These confusing procedures make it harder for voters to understand the process, and a confusing system is always more susceptible to bad actors committing fraud.
Divisive. In 2020, Alaska voters narrowly approved “Ballot Measure 2,” which created a single ballot for ALL primary voters, as well as ranked-choice voting for the general election. This was heavily pushed by left wing nonprofits. Under Alaska’s new primary system, all candidates are thrown into one “primary” race together, regardless of party. Unlike a traditional party primary, which is meant to unite voters of common interests under the banner of the candidate with the most support, this system divides voters by separating political majorities into smaller subsets. This is exactly what happened in the Alaska Special Primary Election, where dozens of candidates split the vote total, resulting in TWO Republicans and one Democrat moving on to the special general election, despite the fact that Palin (R) and Peltola (D) were the clear winners of their parties. This process is needlessly divisive at a time when our institutions should be striving to provide unification wherever possible. In fact, Begich, a Republican, ran general election ads against Palin for being “too famous” and appearing on the “Masked Singer.” The system pitted two members of the same party against one another in a highly divisive primary, ensuring that many voters would not view the either as a reasonable second choice.
Confusion. Allowing multiple candidates from the same political party onto a general election ballot is also confusing. It divides the vote and makes it almost impossible to achieve a majority on the first round of voting. This is what happened in the special general election on August 16 – the two Republican candidates on the ballot, Sarah Palin and Nick Begich, split 60% of the vote. This Republican division created a plurality “frontrunner” in the Democrat, with the remaining 40% of the vote on the first round of ballots. This allowed the media to state that Peltola was the frontrunner for 15 days, although she never achieved a first-round majority. In the end, the third-place candidate, Begich, was dropped from the ballot and his supporters’ second choice votes were divided up between the two other candidates. More than 11,000 of Begich’s supporters didn’t choose a second choice and thus were completely disenfranchised, making the difference in a race that was decided by approximately 6,000 votes.
Integrity. Late-arriving ballots are not the hallmark of a fair and transparent system. The 1948 “Box 13” scandal in LBJ’s Senate race, for example, turned on late ballots. Alaska is a vast state, but this shouldn’t be an excuse to allow ballots to drift in for FIFTEEN days AFTER an election, what the current system allows. It’s just as easy, and much more fair, for absentee ballots to be sent out and returned earlier. The integrity of a fair election system requires that ballots be received on or before Election Day. When we allow ballots to be received for weeks after the election, we create an opportunity for those with ill intentions to count how many votes they need and produce the necessary number of late-arriving ballots.
Transparency. Fourth, elections must be transparent. Whenever election officials are in possession of election results, the public should be made aware of these results as soon as possible. Alaska’s ranked-choice system allows the vote totals to be immediately released for first choice votes, but this is misleading. In a system designed to make it virtually impossible to receive a majority on the first round of balloting, it is the “second choice” that determines the winner. In Alaska’s system, election officials can see the second-choice vote totals but cannot tally or release them. Yet, the number is knowable with the touch of a tabulation button. This creates a huge risk that someone inside or outside of the election system could tap into this process and prematurely learn the vote totals, which could be used to form a preemptive come-from-behind strategy of unethical means.
Alaska has created a confusing hodgepodge of secretive election rules that incentivize fraud and trample on transparency. Even more importantly, it disenfranchises voters and exploits small divisions. In an era of wide distrust of our institutions, we should work to shore up, simplify, and make transparent our most sacred government institutions. Alaska would be wise to return to party primaries that create clear choices and clear winners.
Tim Griffin is special counsel for the American Voter’s Alliance and the Amistad Project. Tim works with activists, elected officials, and other attorneys throughout the country to strengthen the integrity of our electoral system and oppose executive order overreach. He previously served as an assistant prosecutor in Virginia, where he served as one of two attorneys in securing the conviction of the nation’s longest-cold case-no body murder. He is an adjunct university professor.
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