Alaska organizations get creative to help with ranked voting

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Drag performers walked up and down a catwalk between cafe tables, while cheering patrons took photos, waved money and filled out ballots ranking the shows.

The mock election, fueled by performances that roared the din from an Anchorage, Alaska, cafe, aimed to educate voters about the state’s new ranked choice voting system.

The first ranked voting election in a series of electoral changes approved by Alaska voters in 2020 will be the August 16 U.S. House special election featuring Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich and Democrat Mary Peltola.

Organizations have gotten creative in trying to help voters figure out how to vote, as the mock election featuring drag performers shows.

In preferential voting, ballots are counted in rounds. A candidate can win with more than 50% of the votes in the first round. If no one reaches this threshold, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Voters who chose this candidate as their first choice have their votes count towards their next choice. The rounds continue until there are two candidates left, and whoever has the most votes wins.

Leaders of some of the efforts see their work as essential to getting voters comfortable with preferential voting, whether or not they like the system, and to preventing large numbers of ballots from being discarded. because they are badly expressed.


“In the spirit of democracy, you have to at least understand how it works,” said Bernadette Wilson, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Alaska. The group opposed the 2020 ballot initiative but “we lost”, she said. The new system is “the law of the land, and we have elections coming up”.

While Americans for Prosperity Action-Alaska has endorsed Begich, Wilson avoided using the actual contestants as examples in videos she posted on Facebook explaining the system, opting instead for a demonstration with colorful sticky notes on a board. White. She also gave a presentation and Q&A at an Anchorage theater, an event sponsored by an educational arm of the group, Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

A commenter on one of Wilson’s posts said, “I’m glad she understands. Clear as mud to me.”

Drag queen Dela Rose performs during a mock election at Cafecito Bonito in Anchorage, Alaska, where people ranked drag performers’ performances. Several organizations are using different methods to teach Alaskans about preferential-choice voting, which will be used in the upcoming U.S. House special election.
(AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Wilson said she wondered how many people were at risk of filling out their ballot incorrectly and having it rejected because “they read a comment on Facebook somewhere” or got the wrong information from a friend.

Maine uses ranked voting in state-level primaries and in general elections for federal office. But Alaska’s unique system combines open primaries with ranked ballot general elections. The top four in each primary race, regardless of political affiliation, qualify for the general election.

Proponents see ranked choice as a way to give voters more choice and have candidates seek support beyond their traditional bases.

Three candidates are in the House special election after election officials and the courts determined that independent Al Gross, who finished third in the special primary, dropped out of the race too late for the Republican Tara Sweeney, fifth, can vote in her place.

The winner will serve the remainder of late Representative Don Young’s term, which ends early next year. Young died in March.

The special election will be on one side of the ballot. The other side will feature regular primary races, in which voters select one candidate per race.

Palin at a recent forum called ranked voting “convoluted” and complicated and said it should be changed. Former President Donald Trump, who backed Palin, at a rally in Anchorage last month called the ranked choice a “rigged deal.”

Palin’s campaign did not respond to questions from The Associated Press about whether the campaign is trying to help voters understand the system or encourage them to rank themselves a certain way. Peltola either. Peltola, during the forum, said she was hopeful about the new system.


Begich said his job is to make sure voters mark him first. Begich, who said he would like to see Alaska return to its old system, said he is focused on campaigning and educating others on the process.

The Alaska Division of Elections, which oversees the elections, produced advertisements, videos, flyers and explanations online. But one gubernatorial candidate, Democrat Les Gara, said one of his senders might confuse people because he uses a simulated state Senate race as an example of a ranked choice when no race State legislation will be filed in August. A spokesperson for the division did not respond to criticism.

Some of the advocacy efforts are political. For example, the National Republican Congressional Committee in a video encourages voters to “leave the Democrat blank” and only rank Republicans in the House special election.

The Alaska Democratic Party is urging voters to “rank the candidate or candidates that best align with their values.”

The Alaska Center Education Fund, a nonpartisan arm of progressive Central Alaska, helped sponsor the recent “Drag out the Vote” event in Anchorage. Kyla Kosednar, the fund’s advocacy director, said the fund’s work this year is focused on young people and new voters.

“We try to add these fun elements to these voting events so that people are more likely to take time out of their busy summer schedules and come learn about ranked choice voting,” Kosednar said.

Kosednar said Young’s death sped up the voter education timeline. She said some people don’t realize an election is happening or don’t know about the new system. She said practice help.

“Once people practiced it, they were like, ‘Oh, that just makes sense,'” she said.


Sarah Erkmann Ward, who owns a communications agency in Anchorage, has a contract with Alaskans for Better Elections and does outreach to help conservatives understand the system, she said. Alaskans for Better Elections supported the new electoral system and worked with various groups to help voters understand it.

Ward said she hasn’t seen any ranked voting skeptics leave her presentations as an advocate.

“It’s more of a realization that, ‘OK, it’s not as hard as I thought, still not crazy about the idea but I know how to vote.’ And that’s really the goal here, just for people to be comfortable with how you vote.”


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