Editor’s note: This is the fifth in our series of questions about ranked choice voting, which is part of the new voting methodology brought to Alaska by Ballot Measure 2 via Alaskans for Better Elections. Voters continue to ask questions about how to understand the general election ballot, which they will face for the first time on the reverse side of the Aug. 16 primary ballot. The special general election question will determine who fills out the remainder of Congressman Don Young’s term in office. At the end of this Q&A, you can find previous editions of this series and get more of your questions answered by posing questions in the comment section.
Our answers are given by election expert Bernadette Wilson, state director of Americans for Prosperity Alaska. While Wilson does not necessarily support the ranked choice voting system, she has studied it enough to become an expert.
Question: If all voters wrote in random names to fill out our ranks on the ranked choice ballot, is it possible the final leader would not meet the 50%+1 target? Would they still win, or would there have to be a runoff?
Bernadette Wilson: While this is a theoretical question and it is unlikely that everyone would write in names on the write-in line that is on the ballot, there is no scenario in which this would lead to yet another runoff election. It’s mathematically impossible because the universe of eligible ballots shrinks with each round of counting.
If you vote for a write-in candidate and that same write-in candidate gets the least amount of votes, your write-in choice would be disregarded and your second choice would be in the spot to be counted in the next round of counting.
If at any point in the counting process, your choice of candidate gets disqualified from the counting due to lack of votes, and simultaneously you have not voted for another candidate, then your ballot gets disregarded. Your ballot is exhausted.
Each time a ballot gets disregarded (or “thrown out“) the total number of ballots left shrinks to a new universe. The number needed to win is once again 50% + 1, but the total number of ballots being counted is now fewer than the previous round of counting.
For example, let’s assume we look at a cohort of 100 people’s votes out of 1,000 votes cast. Out of those 100 votes, let’s assume that they all made the same first choice, but that same first choice gets the least amount of votes among the 1,000 voters in the first round of counting and therefore that particular candidate gets disqualified. If only 20 people out of that 100 voted for a second choice, that means that 80 people have now essentially not voted in the second round of counting, reducing the total number of votes needed to win.
Regardless of how many individuals choose to write in a candidate’s name, the process for counting ballots remains the same. The Elections Division is looking for 50% + 1 of the total number of votes that are in play in each particular round of counting.
The bottom line: When the election is all said and done, the Division of Elections is not looking for 50% +1 of the total number of ballots that were originally cast. It is only 50% + 1 of the ballots that are in play in the final round of counting.
Dive deeper: More information on how ranked choice voting works will be at this free Aug. 4 event at the Wilda Marston Theater in the Loussac Library at 36th Ave. and Denali Street. Parking is free and the event is free:
Watch Bernadette Wilson explain how ranked choice voting works at this link: