Sep 4, 2022
By coupling nonpartisan, open primaries with ranked-choice voting, Alaska has both undercut ugly partisan polarization and offered voters greater choice
I have spent more than a year ogling Alaska’s new election system. The Last Frontier state has stepped to the front of the line battling the hyper-partisan terror that has taken ahold of our country. Colorado should race to be next.
The unique system adopted by Alaska combines two electoral innovations: an open primary and ranked-choice voting. Neither alone is unique to the state, but nobody has tried it before.
Nonpartisan, open primaries put all candidates from every party onto the same primary ballot. The system has been implemented in several jurisdictions.
Most notably, California has used such a system for the past decade to select the top two candidates from any party to face of in the general election. That means that in Republican-dominated districts, two Republicans will face off in November elections; vice versa in Democratic strongholds.
The point of the system is to hep moderate the polarization that has become so prevalent in America politics. While a Democrat may not be able to win in the hypothetical district above, voters are better served by choosing between two competing visions of the Republican party. Democrats and unaffiliated centrists may form a coalition with center-right Republicans to support a more mainstream candidate over a far right bomb-thrower.
Without that type of system, we end up with elections like the one in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. Rep. Lauren Boebert effectively won the general election after winning the proportionally smaller Republican-only primary. Despite what Adam Frisch would have people believe, the district’s partisan makeup all but dictates that it will send a Republican, any Republican, to Congress.
Unfortunately, this outcome is all too frequent across the country. Less than one in 10 congressional seats are competitive between the two parties. That creates a perverse incentive for candidates in noncompetitive seats to demonize members of the other party and engage in bloodlust rhetoric.
Nonpartisan, open primaries allow districts to choose between more moderate representation and the extreme fringes on either end.
With a decade of data to guide it, Alaska has improved on the California model. They coupled it with ranked-choice voting. All candidates from all parties appear on the same primary ballot, voters rank them on a bubble sheet (they can rank all or leave off any they don’t approve of), and the votes are tabulated.