Alex Gimarc: Ranked choice voting is a team sport

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By ALEX GIMARC

I had an extended and moderately contentious discussion regarding the new election system with radio host Dan Fagan on his KENI morning show on Monday. Podcast is available here.

My point was that the new rules around Ranked Choice Voting require Republicans to be one another’s best friends during the primary, freeing them to do whatever they need to do in the general. This is now a team sport. 

Fagan’s point was that there is no way on God’s green earth that Republicans can do that and win a primary, even a jungle primary gifted to us by Lisa Murkowski, Scott Kendall, and millions of Outside dollars.  

Sadly, my argument did not compute with Dan, at least to the point where I got agreement. So, here is another attempt. Hopefully I can do a better job this time around.

Two of the smarter analysts wrote recent pieces on Alaska’s new election system, one published, one not. Both pieces emphasized the importance of the jungle primary in the election. Top four vote-getters out of the primary get to play in the general election. It is the general election where the ranked choice process takes place.  

Randy Ruedrich writing a month ago in Must Read Alaska summarized the new process as follows:

“Vote for your favorite candidate in the primary. Rank your conservative to moderate candidate team members on the general election ballot from first to last. A democrat is never your choice.”

Glen Biegel wrote an unpublished piece suggesting a similar approach a week or so earlier. His take on the process concentrates on the general election, specifically how to rank your candidates. The first suggestion is to never vote for someone who doesn’t represent your core values. Rather, rank them on what you believe your top five or so most important issues are. A 50% match is not a loss.  

The bad news out of all this is that it is a more difficult process, as the party label used as a short cut for selecting candidates is gone. This will be more work for the voter. But it is the new world in which we must operate, at least in 2022, for as long as this system is in place. If it works to elect lots of Democrats, it will be in place for a long, long time.  

So, what happens in the primary? Better yet, how should voters and campaigns approach the primary?

For years, the primary is where conservatives took care of family business, usually taking out the candidate who was farthest from their core values or worked too closely with Democrats. Primaries were full body contact, blunt force trauma affairs, with Republican candidates coming out of the primary bloodied, bruised, and normally out of money. All of these made it easier for the Democrat to win in the general election.

We can’t do that anymore. The game today is to get as many people as possible who believe like we do into the general election. A very good day for a Republican race would be for four Republicans to be the largest vote getters in the primary and no democrat make the general election. A very good day for democrats would be for four of them to survive the primary. How to do this is something entirely new, as we haven’t run our primary election campaigns this way.  

On a strategic basis, conservative and Republican candidates need to become best friends in the primary, as it is now a team sport.  Save the full body contact routine for Democrats (and no-party candidates like Bill Walker) in the general election. The other thing is that when the ranked choice sort kicks in, it will be the second or even the third-choice candidates who will determine the winner at the end of the day.  We would rather these be someone from Our Side rather than the other.  

This means that campaigns need to operate differently in two very different elections. We can’t successfully do what we have been so very good at doing for the last half century in the primary. Failure to do so will open the door for a pair of candidates on the other side to sneak into the general election completely unscathed. There are already rumors of some sort of arrangement between Walker and Democrat Les Gara, which helps explain why they have both gone after conservatives and Republicans, not saying a word about each other.  

The world has changed. We can either get on that train or end up under it. Vote smart. Think of the upcoming election campaign as a team sport. And defeat the other side.

Alex Gimarc lives in Anchorage since retiring from the military in 1997. His interests include science and technology, environment, energy, economics, military affairs, fishing and disabilities policies. His weekly column “Interesting Items” is a summary of news stories with substantive Alaska-themed topics. He was a small business owner and Information Technology professional.

33 COMMENTS

  1. I’m all up for gaming this thing, but that would require a lot of cat herding for the Republicans.

    Democrats are herding sheep, which is much easier.

  2. This is excellent analysis and advice. I hope it’s a presentation at the upcoming convention.

  3. Why don’t we just get rid of the ranked choice voting system through the petition process? No mail-in ballots. Paper ballots hand counted at the precinct level on election night. It worked for Hungary counting millions of ballots last week. It’s another Big Lie that it doesn’t work here.

  4. The ranked choice system can only consider your top two choices. So why bother selecting a third and fourth choice? They never come into play.

    • The third could might possibly come into play, the forth almost certainly never will but it is mathematically possible. It’s basic math and one person needs more than 50% to win. If the vote were split 26%, 25%, 25%, and 24% the last vote drops and the second place votes get redistributed. Let’s say the second choices of the last place candidate get evenly split among the remaining three candidates now we are left with 34%, 33%, and 33%…nobody has more than 50% of the vote yet. Now if your first choice got dropped and your second choice was the next in line to get dropped, we are on to your third choice to see who gets to more than 50%. Mathematically it is possible to have a tie at this point, but thanks to the wildcard that a write-in throws into the equation this is even less likely since a write-in could feasibly be any of the four choices…even though it is a fifth choice.

      To be safe making three choices likely gets your vote maybe counted the way you hope it should be, if you’re lucky.

  5. It appears one could vote all five choices for the same candidate. That is my plan until I hear different.

    • No, that’s not allowed by the rules. Just vote your first choice and leave the rest blank. Otherwise your ballot is tossed out.

    • The way I understand it that would be considered a spoiled ballot and none of your votes would count. You can vote for any number of candidates or only one, but you cannot vote for the same candidate more than once.

  6. Much as it pains me, Dan is right.

    The GOP is not disciplined enough to do anything other that sabotage each other.

    Exhibit A: Sarah is running against Nick Begich.

    Tuckerman Babcock. The “gift” that keeps on giving

  7. One thing that I’ve noticed over the past two years is that, despite whatever differences they have in private, the Progressive Left almost *ALWAYS* presents a unified front to the public. That’s a definite strength of the collective, hive-mind mentality, and ranked-choice voting plays to that strength. Conservatives need to be aware of that fact and adjust their strategies accordingly. Wishing that we were still playing under the old rules won’t win elections.

    • If you leave the rest of the choices blank, it you have essentially cast a half vote for the Other Side should it go to Round 2 of the ranked choice sort because you chose not to play in Round 2 or 3. Remember the ranked choice sort is not an addition process. It is a subtraction process. Choose at least 2 or 3. Cheers –

  8. Well thought out Alex. I agree the primary is where the larger Republican base has a chance to win big, taking three or four of the slots headed to the general.
    While there are independent, undeclared, Democrat, and Libertarian candidates, their chance of raising to the top 4 is not as good as any or even several Republicans. Because undeclared and independent voters have long chosen Democrat or Republican candidates, never undeclared, and rarely independent, your point about staying positive in the primary, reserving negatives for the Democratic candidates, is frankly brilliant.
    It can make it even more fun for Republican candidates, repeating and competing with each other for the best one liner describing the Democrat party candidates?
    I also agree that one should never give candidates you do not fully support your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th choice. If you do, your vote may well be the one that carries the day for a candidate you do not want.

  9. We need more articles like this so we can have open discussion about this nonsense and share what does and does not make sense. Some here have said they will never vote for this person or that person, doing so gives those who invented this madness the victory. There are certainly two different strategies to these elections. If all conservatives vote for one singular primary candidate and they win over 50% that doesn’t mean they will win the election right then and there…which is something I’ve heard Dan Fagan say on the radio, there will still be a general election of the top four candidates. Democrats will split their votes in the primary to try and get more candidates into the general and then they will use that to try and drive voter turnout in the general knowing that the extremists will rank the less extremist as their number two, which might very well get their second choice elected when conservatives simply decide they don’t want to play the game and rank someone they mostly agree with.

    It’s a stupid system and should be removed as soon as possible, but we are stuck with it for now and until we rank vote a better government or overturn it by ballot.

  10. It’s like counting cards at the blackjack table at the casino. Everybody at the table is playing against the house, not each other. Some may win, some may lose, but there is no point hiding your cards. You need to cooperate with the person next to you.

    • In what card-counting scheme does a blackjack player profit by “cooperating with the player next to you”?

  11. “…….the new rules around Ranked Choice Voting require Republicans to be one another’s best friends during the primary, freeing them to do whatever they need to do in the general. This is now a team sport……..”
    Elections are not a sport. They used to be a civic virtue, but those days are long gone. They are now a scam, and they have been nationally for at least the last 30 years. In Alaska, it goes back at least 10 years earlier. Remember the 1982 General Election? If not, please don’t try to BS me about elections. If you didn’t inow that this election scam was a political conspiracy when you saw the ballot initiative on your ballot, you’re either clueless or you’re another Murkowski propagandist.

    • I think most people are well aware that ranked choice voting is an attempt to tip the balance towards more Liberal candidates, yes. However, that does not negate the fact that for Conservatives to be competitive under the new rules, they have *GOT* to start working together for the common good. Fine; maybe my preferred candidate won’t make it into office, but can we at least work together to get someone I can live with, rather than having four Democrats on the ballot with no Conservative choice at all?

      • “……..I think most people are well aware that ranked choice voting is an attempt to tip the balance towards more Liberal candidates…….”
        Actually, I’m quite convinced that this scheme was designed specifically to defeat conservative power within the Republican Party, and it was a conspiracy motivated by the 2010 Murkowski primary loss to Joe Miller. Murkowski’s upward-aimed middle finger toward the state’s Republican Party and Alaskan middle class after her performance representing the Global Party of Davos over the past several years should confirm that for you. She cares not a whit about Alaska or Alaskans. She represents the current world rulers, and she is doing it well.
        If the “feel good” thought of “working together” makes you feel better, fine, but there is no way I’m falling for that. This is political warfare like we’ve never seen before in the modern era. Manipulating elections, along with the current extreme level of media propaganda, is rampant worldwide, and I don’t “feel good” about it at all.

  12. If ranked-choice voting’s such an obviously beneficial replacement to America’s traditional one man, one vote history, why was so much hype and dark money invested in forcing it on Alaskan voters?
    .
    Why even today, if ranked-choice voting is so obviously good, should Alaskan voters be bombarded with the same tired old “they bad, we good” exhortations to accept 246 years of “one man, one vote” is dead, take one for the “team” ’cause that’s how Democrats do it now and RCV’s here to stay anyway?
    .
    The “team” seems okay with empowering itself to change election-process rules so it can manipulate election outcomes to obtain power.
    .
    The “team” seems okay with voters never knowing: (a) who’ll be running against whom in the final ranked-choice vote count; and (b) which candidate is substituted for another who didn’t win the first round.
    .
    Amazingly, the “team” is okay with voters being effectively disenfranchised, not having the opportunity to decide between final, competing substitutes.
    .
    The “team” seemingly is ignorant of, or indifferent to, the recognized effects of ballot exhaustion in RCV: Ballots that don’t include ultimate finalists are dumped, creating a false majority for the winner. That false majority is made up of the voters in the final round, –not– a majority of all voters who actually cast votes. (b) More than a few voters, especially those for whom English is not their first language either can’t or choose not to rank several candidates, even when they can. So they’re disenfranchised. (Burnett and Kogan, “Ballot and Voter ‘Exhaustion’ Under Instant Runoff Voting,” p. 49.)
    .
    None of this, of course, happens without Alaska’s Dominion vote-tabulation machinery, operating on its proprietary software, which pretty much assures state election transparency is also a thing of the past.
    .
    This means no election observer can credibly observe vote counting. Nobody outside the Chosen Few knows exactly how the proprietary Dominion software works, or how it can be manipulated to achieve the desired result.
    .
    Can’t happen here? If the “team”‘s naive enough to accept the integrity of ranked-choice voting, then the “team” accepts the integrity of machinery programmed and overseen by who knows whom to sort, validate, and count ranked-choice ballots. Hardly inspires confidence in the “team”.
    .
    No independent contractor does forensic audits on the Dominion vote tabulation machinery and publishes the full audit report… why?
    .
    If dark money bought the BM2 outcome, who can say with certainty that dark-money influence didn’t reach into the vote-tabulation process which “approved” BM2, or won’t reach into future RCV election processes?
    .
    Can’t happen here… Surely the “team” won’t let it happen here.
    .
    Here we are with a legislature composed mainly of GOP Inc. and Democrat Inc. who, by their deafening silence, seem perfectly content with the in-your-face corruption of Alaska’s electoral system… why?
    .
    Doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to ask, given Future Alaska Governor Bill Walker’s ties to Communist China, what part of this “dark money” came from foreign sources such as Communist China who’ve a vested interest in Walker’s political success?
    .
    Could the smoke and mirrors around ranked-choice voting be a diversion, an attempt to manipulate public opinion into accepting ranked-choice voting, while suppressing concerns that RCV and Dominion vote-counting gear undermine confidence in Alaska’s electoral system and may have been forced on Alaskans to help the Communist Chinese get what they want?
    .
    Can’t happen here? Is the “team” ready to sacrifice what was a reasonably transparent, comparatively trustworthy electoral system to find out?

  13. If I’m not mistaken, the Constitution leaves it to the individual states to determine how voting is done.

  14. I have not missed an election since 1978 and have never voted for a democrat. However, given the ridiculous rules now in play I have decided that casting a ballot is no longer worthy of even five minuets of my time and I have every intention of joining the vast majority of eligible voters in Alaska and abstaining from the process.

    • That makes you part of the problem. Be part of the solution instead and make your voice heard; the left wins when turnout is low.

      • Respectfully disagree… ballot fatigue’s real.
        .
        Think of it like shooting an IFR approach… some PIREPs say the navaid’s not working right… but it’s still on the air… gonna trust it, fly the course anyway?

  15. Can we make a recommendation for everyone to understand in like 2 sentences? I’m trying to follow all this but still somewhat confused. Would you say, “never write a democrat name on the ballot?” Even if you don’t fill all the slots? Or, if you loathe Lisa, just don’t include her in any of your choices, even though you are leaving blank spaces?

    • You do not need to rank all four of the candidates, rank however many of the four candidates you want but only rank a candidate one time. Ranking more than one candidate means if your candidate of choice does not make the cut your subsequent choice(s) will be counted until a candidate receives more than 50% of the remaining votes.

  16. Oh so you only need write ONE name per election. and then another name (or the same name) the next time if your first name did not get 50%? Write your favorite on the top line and then no other one below?

  17. I can’t believe this thread. Alaskan elections are determined by the large amount of independent voters. Ranked choice puts it in the forefront. R and D are archaic designations. We are in 2022

    • “……..Alaskan elections are determined by the large amount of independent voters……..”
      Like Joe Stalin and Joe Biden have correctly proclaimed, it isn’t who votes that counts, it’s who counts the votes.

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