By SUZANNE DOWNING | MUST READ ALASKA
Alaska is where political ideas can get beta tested and subsequently rolled out to the rest of the country. This goes back to 1975, just 16 years after statehood, when voters made Alaska the first state to legalize personal use of marijuana. It’s a cheap media market where voters are independent and persuadable.
The Rube Goldberg contraption that is Alaska’s new election system was adopted by voters after an aggressive campaign involving national dark money in 2020. With its various pulleys, levers, algorithms, machine-only counting, and no practical way to audit an election, it has added uncertainty and confusion to the voting process, and distrust in the results. It is also much more costly because it takes so much explanatory advertising by the Division of Elections.
This year, its intended results are being revealed, with a likely reelection of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and many Republican legislative candidates losing in the ranked choice system that is now in use.
The open primary ballot and ranked-choice voting general election also resulted in Alaska voting for a Bernie Sanders-style Democrat for Congress, even though barely 13.5% of Alaska voters are registered Democrats.
Nevada was next. Even before Alaska had a chance to show the rest of the world what a mess it had made of its election system, the combination of jungle primaries and ranked choice voting was on the Nevada ballot this Nov. 8, and passed 52.8% (latest count). A minor difference between the two systems is that in Nevada, the top five candidates emerging from the open primary would appear on the ranked-choice ballot in general elections, while in Alaska, it’s the top four candidates.
Yet, Nevada has a chance to reconsider its decision. In order to initiate the change required to enact a constitutional amendment in Nevada, this question need to be approved in two consecutive even-numbered election years. That means Ballot Measure 3 has to go back to the voters on Nov. 5, 2024. Then, the Legislature has to adopt it. And so the fight will go on in the Sagebrush State.
In Alaska and in Nevada, the system designed for progressives to control the outcomes was funded by mostly liberal dark money from outside the state.
Alaskans for Better Elections, started by Sen. Lisa Murkowski defenders, wrote the language for Alaska’s Ballot Measure 2, and was handed $7 million to market it. Most of the money came from Unite America ($3.4 million), Action Now Initiative ($2.9 million), and Represent.Us, which wrote, “Alaska’s elections are flooded with secret money, hindered by a lack of voter participation, and overshadowed by divisive politics. But together we can change what elections look like in Alaska by fighting to end the prevalence of dark money in the state’s elections, providing open primaries to all of Alaska’s voters, and implementing Ranked Choice Voting at the ballot box.”
On the other side, $600,000 was all that Defend Alaska Elections had to work with in 2020. The group didn’t have billionaires from outside the state helping, and Alaska business leaders who might pitch in to save the election system did not have the foresight to see that they were being played. Defend Alaska Elections lost its effort to prevent this disaster-by-design election system by just 3,781 votes. A sliver, but a loss nonetheless.
In Nevada, the forces for and against the ballot measure were similarly unbalanced: Nevada Votes First political action committee spent nearly $20 million. Top donors were Institute for Political Innovation founder Katherine Gehl, Action Now, Inc., GOP mega-donor Kenneth Griffin, liberal mega-donor Kathryn Murdoch, California real estate magnate John Sobrato, and Unite America.
The group opposed to the ballot question, Protect Your Vote Nevada political action committee, raised just $1.5 million. Top donors were Nevada Alliance, Majority Forward, and the Nevada Conservation League.
Under Nevada’s Ballot Measure 3, candidates would run in a single primary election, which is what Ballot Measure 2 gave Alaska in 2020, destroying the Alaska Republican Party’s ability to prevent Democrats from crashing their primary ballot and thus electing an unwinnable candidate for the Republicans to offer voters in the general election.
In a state that tends to go Republican, this open primary means there are more Republicans on the general election ballot and more discord among the candidates and their factions, which has proven to break down the party’s unity behind a candidate going into the general election. The Republican Party in Alaska has been badly hobbled by open primaries and ranked-choice voting.
Alaska’s election system has also slowed down the results to a snail’s pace. The final tabulation on the election doesn’t take place until Nov. 23, and certification is scheduled for Nov. 29. Legal challenges have four days to be filed. That puts the entire election into nearly a month after Nov. 8, Election Day.
Nevadans may wish to observe what is going on in Alaska. The fact that the Republican-leaning state to the North just elected a hard-left Democrat to Congress should tell Nevada voters everything they need to know about open primaries and ranked-choice voting. Nevadans ought to walk away from the betting table because this election gamble has the odds stacked against them.
Suzanne Downing is publisher of Must Read Alaska.