The new voting system in Alaska and an unexpected special election attracted 48 candidates to contest the state's lone House spot this year. They included Sarah Palin, a former vice presidential nominee and a Democratic socialist from North Pole who legal changed his name to Santa Claus.
After a narrowly passing 2020 ballot measure, the state will be trying nonpartisan primaries and ranked choice voting Saturday. This is the first attempt at nonpartisan primary elections.
Although the new system was expected to launch in the August primary, longtime Rep. Don Young's March death forced a special election in order to fill his vacant seat faster. Candidates and observers are now wondering how voters will respond to the new system. Will they choose to stick with party-endorsed candidates or give Claus a chance at a seat on Congress?
"The question is, of course: Do Alaskans fully grasp the power they have right now? They must look at these candidates as individuals, not as party people. Or will we be more receptive to the parties? Amy Lauren Lovecraft is a professor of political science from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. That is the open question.
The new voting system works like this: Alaskans vote for single candidates in an unpartisan primary election. The four top vote-getters move on to the general election. In which, voters rank four candidates according to their preference, the four highest-voting candidates advance to that stage. The race is won by any candidate receiving more than 50% of the vote. If there is no majority, the candidate who gets the least number of first-choice votes wins the race. Votes cast for the eliminated candidate will be recast to allow voters to choose their second choice. The process of elimination and retabulation continues until there are only two remaining candidates. The candidate who receives the most votes wins.
Palin, former governor of the state, is the front-runner in the special election. He has the endorsement from former President Donald Trump and Nick Begich. Begich is a Republican who won the endorsement by the state GOP. Young's grandfather was the incumbent. To the left, Al Gross, a 2020 Senate Candidate, is running as an independent candidate while Mary Peltola (a Democratic ex-state legislator) is one of four Native Alaskans running. (Gross lost his 2020 race by almost 13 points to Republican Senator Dan Sullivan.
Claus, an expert in gardening, and other ex-state politicians complete the vast field.
Ivan Moore, a veteran pollster in the state said that the open primary allows for a greater variety of candidates, including those not belonging to their party, and gives them a better chance at success.
He said, "Established and credible people are smart enough to believe they have a chance. All they need is to get in the final four." "Once you get into the final four, anything is possible."
Moore stated that his May survey of race results showed Palin, Begich and Gross making it into the top 4. Second- and third-choice vote will be real wild cards in ranked-choice contest. Moore stated that Begich won the final ranked-choice contest after a variety simulations. However, this is not guaranteed.
He has his sights on Claus.
Moore stated that he wouldn't be surprised to win the seat through mischievous people wanting to see Santa Claus win.
Claus, who is refusing all campaign contributions and directs voters to BernieSanders.com/issues for his policy views, is counting on his name recognition. Claus, a North Pole City Council Member, stated that he changed his name almost two decades ago when he grew a bushy white beard which earned him the nickname. It also allowed him to lobby his legislators more effectively, he discovered.
He stated, "This ranked-choice vote presents an unique opportunity this time around, I think many of us are taking full advantage of it."
Andrew Halcro, a former state legislator is running as an independent candidate. "I'm a moderate Republican. I'm pro-choice," Halcro said. "I wouldn't survive a Republican primary. I stand a chance in ranked-choice vote."
Claus and Halcro are only running in the special election for the seat for the remainder of the year. A slightly smaller group of 31 candidates is running to the full term.
Claus stated that he would like to give the potential seat-holder a clean slate, while Halcro said it was best for the long-term representative to not be forced to run for reelection and also serve in Washington this fall.
Critics are concerned that voters will be confused by the open primary system and the ranked-choice general electoral system. This is especially true since this single House race will require four elections this year: a primary election and a general vote for Young's last few months, and a primary election and general election to elect Young for his two-year term beginning in 2023. August 16 is the date for both the seat's regular primaries and the special election's special election. This means that voters will choose one House candidate to fill the regular term, and then rank four candidates for special election's long term.
Lindsay Kavanaugh, Alaska Democrats' Executive Director, stated that the party has increased its voter education campaign and doubled the budget to introduce voters into the system.
Begich stated that the system would make politics more contentious and keep likeminded candidates competing against each other into a general election.
He said, "We'll likely have two candidates from each side and two from the right." "From this perspective, in this race we will be running both a primary candidate and a general (in practice) simultaneously."
Although Alaska's new voting system may be unique in the United States, other states have adopted elements. For example, Washington and California have nonpartisan primaries. However, they only elevate two candidates to the general elections, while Maine and many other cities use ranked-choice voting for certain contests.
According to Rob Richie (CEO of FairVote), Nevada and Missouri are currently in the process of proposing ballot measures that would implement voting systems similar to Alaska's.
He stated that ranked-choice voting encourages candidates to find common ground and engage with more voters. This leads to more positive political discourse.