News Release

Alaska Joins Maine with Rank Choice Voting


Mary Peltola has defeated Sarah Palin and Nick Begich in a congressional race in Alaska’s first use of ranked choice voting statewide.

ROB RICHIE,, @fairvote
President of FairVote, Richie said today: “This special congressional election was exciting not just because Alaska has joined Maine in being the first states to use ranked choice voting in general elections for Congress in American history, but also because it was extremely competitive — with a margin of just 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent in the final round. For the rest of this term, Mary Peltola will be the first Alaska Native to ever serve in Congress.

“That Alaska pulled this election off without a hitch — even when they had to implement RCV much faster than expected following the passing of Don Young — speaks to just how straightforward RCV is as well as the excellent work led by election officials and Alaskans for Better Elections. Polling by Patinkin Research Strategies [PDF] shows that overwhelming majorities of Alaska voters received instructions on how to rank their choices, found RCV simple to use, and took advantage of their right to rank multiple candidates. Alaskans were also excited to engage, with turnout jumping compared to the last three primaries and hitting a near-record. Fully 99.8 percent of voters in the contest cast a valid ballot in their first RCV election.

“Though some pundits are framing Democrat Mary Peltola’s win as an ‘upset,’ it is unsurprising given everything we know about how to win RCV races. The candidate who leads after the first round of counting typically wins in the final round, especially if they have run an inclusive campaign. In this case, Peltola held a strong lead after the first round, with 40.2 percent of first choices compared with 31.3 percent for Republican Sarah Palin and 28.5 percent for Republican Nick Begich.

“Alaska is a conservative state, but not a highly partisan state, with a bipartisan coalition running the house for several years and a history of independents being elected governor. That puts voters in play, and candidates do best when they actively campaign for 2nd and 3rd choice support from voters across the aisle. While Palin said she herself didn’t rank anyone second and ran a campaign in that spirit, Peltola embraced the system. She focused on issues important to Alaska, like fishing policy, and expressed openness to natural gas exploration (which Democrats rarely do nationally). Her efforts paid off with 29 percent of Begich supporters crossing the aisle to rank her above Palin and growing her share of the vote. Both rounds can be easily visualized in bar graphs with RCVis.” See additional analysis by FairVote Director of Research Deb Otis.

Richie noted: “Importantly, this election was just the first act in Alaska’s big year with ranked choice voting. Alaska’s November elections will also use it, including a highly anticipated U.S. Senate election, a hotly contested race for governor, its state legislative races, and a rematch for this U.S. House seat, with the likely addition of Libertarian Chris Bye to the ballot.”