Fact check: Palin stumbles again on how ranked choice voting works, says third-place person can win


On the Mike Porcaro Show on Monday, (650 KENI) congressional candidate Sarah Palin once again repeated her belief that the third vote getter can win the election in the ranked choice voting system.

That makes three times in one week that Palin has asserted her theory in the public square — the first two times were in Texas. It’s unclear why Palin keeps repeating this theory.

As wacky as Ballot Measure 2’s new election design is, it is still mathematically impossible for the third-place candidate to win next week’s special congressional general election for the temporary seat in Congress.

Every round of ballot counting involves a smaller voting universe. With three candidates, there will be only two counting cycles: The first one eliminates the third-place finisher, and then the election is between just two people.

Everyone who votes for the last-place finisher will remain part of the second (and final) voting universe only if they have made a second choice on their ballot. Ranking other candidates will never harm your first-choice candidate.

For example, if someone votes for Palin, but she comes in third, and if the voter has not selected either Mary Peltola-D, or Nick Begich-R as their second choice, the ballot is exhausted and tossed. In this case, that will probably lead to a Peltola win, since the Democrat will have all the liberal votes in Alaska, which can overcome the conservative votes that remain, in this sample scenario.

But if someone votes for Palin as their first choice and then marks Nick Begich as their second choice, their ballot is still in the running, even after Palin is eliminated. Now the race is only between Begich and Peltola, and it’s as if Palin never existed. Begich gets that one more vote, but the overall number of ballots is, by this time, shrinking because not everyone will rank. With a smaller voting universe, it takes fewer overall votes to win.

If someone votes for Begich first, and Palin second, and if Begich is the third-place candidate, he is eliminated, and the contest is between Palin and Peltola. In this scenario, Palin just earned one more vote that came from the eliminated Begich ballot.

Using yet another example, if Peltola voters do not rank beyond their first choice, and if Peltola comes in third, those ballots are exhausted and the race is just between Begich and Palin. But if Peltola voters rank Palin second, then in the race between Begich and Palin, Palin will get those votes.

It’s a system that makes voting harder than it should be, but the bottom line is that the last-place finisher cannot win because they are always the first to be eliminated.

Here’s what the ranked choice ballot looks like on the back of the Aug. 16 primary ballot:


  1. Suzanne, you are going to make the Palinbots angry by telling the truth. I was listening to that interview and she is more clueless than ever. Rank choice is going to give us terrible results in my opinion.

  2. When my wife & I voted early we both voted the same, The Dominion voting machine accepted Hers but went off like a slot machine with mine saying error & a Green button lit up that said Cast so the elderly lady at the poll said hit the button which I did an FCC then a Supervisor came over and told Her she should had me re enter ballot! So what a great system

    • Ken, as an election worker we are trying our best to make sure your vote counts. Please give us some grace. We are learning about this rank choice voting too. Thank you!

    • I have had poll worker training. Your ballot was most likely different then your wifes’
      Perhaps you only “picked 2” instead of 3. Or you skipped an oval on the back (the pick one primary for Nov)
      Maybe you didn’t “oval” the State choice for reps in Juno.
      If the machine sees that “all the ovals” are not filled in correctly it “tells” you the ballot is not complete.
      It should have stated the reason on the small screen on top of the counter; then you tell the poll worker “that’s what I want (right or wrong) that’s my vote, I’m only filling in one oval” THEN you hit the green button to cast your “not perfectly” filled out ballot.
      That poll worker should have pointed out the problem that the bot had w/ your ballot, so you could correct things or you could make the decision to proceed and hit the green “cast” button.
      Or of course it could have been a glitch ….. totally possible.

  3. The third person CAN win if there are 4 persons in an RCV runoff.
    What was the context of the conversation? Was she speaking specifically about her race?
    RCV is confusing to everyone. In her race, Republican Begich voters could elect Peltola by not voting Palin as their second choice. So in fact the third choice of Republicans (Democrat Peltola) COULD WIN.
    Sarah is right again! Gosh dingy darnit!

    • OR …. Ms Palin & Pres. Trump (who said the same thing at the ANC rally) could be alluding to the fact that the persons who comes in 3rd/ 4th during the pick one primary (who would be eliminated in our normal primaries) can later win in the “pick 4” third world, rank stink election we now have.

  4. Fact: A candidate placing 3rd in a PRIMARY election can win the following ranked choice general election.
    Fact: A candidate placing 3rd in a ranked choice GENERAL election with four candidates can win; but not if there are only three candidates.
    Fact: A candidate placing 4th in a ranked choice GENERAL election with four candidates can never win.

    The ranked choice system is actually fairly simple. Its principal effect is the elimination of partisan primaries. It also enables partisan trickery such as Democrats persuading Al Gross to drop out; giving an advantage to the remaining leftist, Peltola. As to partisan trickery, Democrats are generally more effective than Republicans. In fact, we could actually rename these two major parties Evil vs Stupid. Can you see which is which?

    • “W” Douglas Coogan, I see that my years of didactic discourse with you have not returned unfruitful. However Grasshopper, it should be more plainly stated, as in, we have two Parties, the Evil Party and the Stupid Party, and THE REPUBLICANS are the STUPID Party.

      • Bob: Be nice to Wayne. He has become infatuated with politics in his advancing years and has not the background you have, steeped in politics from the time you were hanging around the Alaksa Legislature when there were some really great political leaders working for the citizens. It is arguable whether the same talent exists among the current crop of elected officials or if the contemporary political landscape is dramatically changed from the good old days. I personally think there has been a general diminishment in talent among the political caste in Alaska over the last 30 years but it shouldn’t be overlooked that society has changed. We Alaskans are older, not as engaged in civic matters as we once were (in general), and most citizens commenting and participating in matters political have huge, outsized opinions about what ought to happen without much actual knowledge regarding how political decisions are made and/or implemented. There’s a lot of silliness floating around these days, but perhaps that’s always been true. Give Wayne a break — at least he’s trying.

    • Yup.
      SD has showed her true feathers.
      She is either jealous of Sarah, very probable, or she’s projecting what she doesn’t like about herself.
      MuckRacker Alaska.
      Classic yellow journalism – like what CNN does.
      Not one disparaging word on RINO Begich. Not one.
      Mabes she has a crush on the RINO – after all she was a big Jeb supporter.

  5. Obviously, if there are three candidates, the 3rd place candidate will be dropped on the first round. Speaking specifically about this election, the 3rd place candidate cannot win. Speaking generally, like if there were four candidates like was the plan before one dropped out, this can happen if those who voted for #4 had #3 as their second choice and the votes from those two candidates exceed 50%. It makes a more potent argument against ranked choice voting to state that this scenario can easily happen.

  6. In fairness, nobody else understands ranked choice either.
    Except Princess and Walker. But it was made for them

    • The Masked Avenger revealing his understanding, once again. He assumes only two people understand RCV. Think about that. Mr. Avenger doesn’t get RCV so he assumes nobody else does either. Breathtaking display of ignorance at work with the Masked Avenger. Oh well, it’s a democracy and ignorance is part of the construct.

  7. In a 4 person race and with the vote totals at 25% each. The 1-3 could win with number 4 second place votes being sent ahead. Or did she mean in a 3 person race the 3 place person who is in third place going in from the primary could win, yes and yes…both could happen..

  8. Please explain that the scenarios you described only happens when no candidate achieves a simple majority. According to the Ballotpedia.org

  9. Fact Checking the Fact Check:
    Has anyone reviewed Palin’s words in Context?
    3 of the top Primary Election vote getters are on the ranked choice General election ballot to fill D. Young’s remaining term.
    Of these 3, Peltola is the distant 3rd place Primary vote finisher.

    In fact, depending on context, Both the author and Palin are correct:
    If Conservatives only vote for 1 candidate in the ranked choice General, Palin’s third-place person can (likely Will) Win.

  10. Nobody knows how this darned, innovative, new-fangled system will “work” or be counted at this point. Throw this election out!

  11. I have absolutely no faith this magical new black-box voting system is anything other than a cover for fraudulent elections.

  12. It’s the same thing Trump was saying at his Anchorage rally. He was going on about how the 3rd place person can be the winner and it’s to favor Murkowski. Palin is probably just following his comments on it. It’s an exaggeration, but the fact is ranked choice voting sucks.

  13. When there are 4 candidates, as will be common, then the 3rd place person COULD… win.

    most elections will have 4 candidates….

  14. This isn’t really difficult at all. In the upcoming special election voters have three individuals on the ballot from which to choose. Pick one or rank three. It is up to each voter. It’s like looking at a menu. You have three choices on what you want to eat. If you order a steak and the waiter says the steaks are all sold, you can still order an alternative. Or not. From a personal perspective, if you don’t get the steak you desire, you can either order something else on the menu. If you don’t get your steak, your second choice is something like getting a hunk of chicken or maybe a plate of pasta. But if you don’t order the chicken or pasta you have to be content to go hungry. It’s up to each voter choose from the menu. Don’t like anything on the menu? Don’t vote. Don’t like something on the menu? Don’t order that item but stop whining about how the system is rigged, unfair, etc., etc., etc.

  15. In a few days this will all be over. Sarah will go back to Florida and New York with her boyfriend. They’ll get married, sell the story to People Magazine and live happily ever after. If she really wanted to win she would have spent her time in Alaska campaigning. Sarah realized halfway through the race that she won’t be able to handle the schedule and she would rather enjoy her remaining quality years.

    • Maybe not “happily ever after.” “Quality years” is also open to debate. Palin seems happy in the same way she is prepared to debate.

  16. Sarah Palin says a lot of dumb stuff, but there’s absolutely nothing incorrect about what she is saying for the regular election, when there will be four candidates. Reaching…

  17. This presents the challenge to have your #1 get over 50% of the vote. If that does not happen, which is easy to see if just the right tweak occurs at the vote-counting level, then round two has another opportunity to be tweaked. In Internet Security, this is called “Attack Surface Area”, which is why we have firewalls and simplify our servers. In this case, the attack is not simply on the network but the process as well with potential to “find” ballots when necessary.

  18. If I only wrote first and second choice what are the chances someone will fill in and complete the third choice. I have no faith in our elections any more

  19. I agree Courtenay. After the TRUMP RAID, the Trump Supporters will be voting for Sarah in Droves. Sarah could possibly get to 52%. Election Central can’t let that happen. They have to FIX IT.

  20. It appears Sarah Palin is one of the four people in this thread who “really does understand” Ranked Choice Voting? Project Veritas confirmed it this morning! It’s the lead story today here on MRAK!

  21. She is correct. Look at the case in Maine where a conservative candidate( poliquin) had more votes, vote when all the shuffling was done, he lost and a Dem won.

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