Ranked choice messaging: A voting system so complicated that even the trainers can’t explain it

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Ballot Measure 2, which created ranked choice voting in Alaska, was sold to voters as a way to keep something called “dark money” out of Alaska politics.

Instead, it was Outside dark money that convinced voters to approve a voting scheme unlike anywhere in the world.

Alaskans are now stuck with a dystopian election system that no one seems to be able to clearly explain — not even the small group of Democrat-leaning activists who tricked voters into passing it, a group that which has anointed itself as the official “explainer,” helping bewildered voters understand jungle primaries and ranked choice voting general elections.

Alaskans for Better Elections, as the group is called, is the activist organization that created the system Alaskans voted for, 50.55% in favor and 49.45% against, in 2020. It’s now the group explaining the system to those same voters, many of whom are mystified about what they have done in passing this initiative.

ABE is doing the explaining through outreach to “influencers,” through civic organizations such as Rotary, and “opinion leaders,” but mainly through left-leaning entities.

It has had little success reaching conservative voters, and its faint attempts have not been enthusiastically received by the hard Right. After all, given a choice to rank Gov. Mike Dunleavy against Bill Walker and Les Gara, many conservatives will just fill in the name by Dunleavy and then walk away from the dilemma choice between Walker and Gara. This is called bullet voting, or single-shot voting, which is when, in an election where a voters are entitled to vote for more than one candidate, instead only votes for one.

A voter might do this either because it is easier than evaluating all the candidates, or as a form of tactical voting. This tactic can be used to maximize the chance that the voter’s favourite candidate will be elected, while increasing the risk that other favored candidates will lose. A group of voters using this tactic consistently has a better chance for one favorite candidate to be elected, according to an explanation in Wikipedia.

Outside money totaling $7 million was spent to persuade Alaskans to give Ranked Choice Voting a go. Alaskans were told that the scheme gives people “more choice.” The ballot initiative was 25 pages long, but what voters saw on the ballot itself was a thin summary.

Alaskans for Better Elections, which birthed Ballot Measure 2, is led by former Rep. Jason Grenn, who himself admits that people should not cast a vote for anyone they don’t wish to see in office.

Yet in other messaging, the group says that if voters don’t rank second and third place choices, their ballots may lose their power if their first-choice candidate does not advance.

Some analysts say that those in favor of Chris Kurka for governor are bullet-voters, who will only vote for Kurka and then walk away, finding the other choices too distasteful.

The Alaskans for Better Elections group has published a train-the-trainer guide for civic leaders and other influencers that all but admits in the lower right corner there will be questions the trained individuals cannot answer:

Alaskans for Better Elections, after winning Ballot Measure 2, became the standing 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission it is to keep the system from being axed by legislators, something which the Legislature is entitled to do two years after an initiative passes. It’s funded by Outside money.

The organization is steered by hardcore leftists.

On the steering committee for Alaskans for Better Elections:

  • Barbara ‘Wáahlaal Gidáak Blake – Nonpartisan, hardline leftist Alaska Native who is on the Juneau Assembly; a former Bill Walker staffer.
  • Sheldon Fisher – Republican, former Gov. Bill Walker’s commissioner of Revenue and commissioner of Administration.
  • Penny Gage – Undeclared party, National Congress of American Indians.
  • Jan Hardy – Nonpartisan, self-described labor activist in Anchorage, signer of Recall Dunleavy petition.
  • Katherine Jernstrom – Undeclared party, co-founder of The Boardroom, where nonprofits are housed, and where leftist campaign office of Ship Creek Group is located.
  • Karl Kassel – Undeclared party, former mayor of Fairbanks North Star Borough, and tightly knit with Walker World, signer of the Recall Dunleavy petition.
  • Ben Kellie – CEO & founder of The Launch Company, and signer of the Recall Dunleavy petition.
  • Cordelia Kellie – Special assistant for rural affairs for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
  • Albert Kookesh – Democrat, former Democrat state senator, Native elder.
  • Lesil McGuire – former Republican state senator and representative.
  • Mike Navarre – Democrat, former mayor of Kenai.
  • La Quen Náay Liz Medicine Crow – Sealaska employee, First Alaskans Institute, political activist.
  • Pamela Parker – Democrat, Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, signer of the Recall Dunleavy petition.
  • Pat Race – Democrat activist, blogger, Juneau podcaster, signer of Recall Dunleavy and active with the Recall Dunleavy group.
  • Greg Razo – Democrat activist and signer of the Recall Dunleavy petition.
  • Derek Reed – Democrat, former president of Anchorage Democrats, and signer of the Recall Dunleavy petition.
  • Kimberly Waller – Democrat, Director, Diversity and Inclusion at The Foraker Group, mainly funded by the Rasmuson Foundation.

Fully 15 of the 17 members of the steering committee are demonstrably left-leaning, with only two registered Republicans on the entire committee, one of whom was a high-ranking official in the Democrat-endorsed Gov. Bill Walker administration.

Forty-one percent of the Alaskans for Better Elections steering committee signed the petition to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

What works “better” for the Alaskans for Better Elections steering committee is to ensure Democrat voters are educated on how to vote, and to ensure Republican voters are confused and discouraged from voting altogether.

What will work best for Republicans is to vote with gusto on Aug. 16 and in November, and elect members to the Legislature who will take care of the Democrat-favoring Ballot Measure 2.

47 COMMENTS

  1. I won’t be giving a number to a candidate that I would never vote for, as it is the same as giving them a vote. So no Dems or Stealth-Dems (Independents).

    • RCV was never intended to have you give a number or RANK to any person you would NEVER vote for. I worked for RCV in Maine where it works well. The process could not be simpler. The first ranking on your ballot is the person you most prefer for an office. If there are more than two people on a ballot, ask yourself if there is any other person you might agree with other voters would be OK for than office, that is your number 2 ranking. Then ask yourself that same question for every other candidate on the ballot. For any candidate you may not approve of, you do not rank that person, as you are correct, it could become a vote. I live in Maine’s CD 2. Take our very acrimonious 2018 Congressional election. There were four candidates: Golden (D) Poliquin (R) Hoar (I) Bond (I). I voted for Bond as 1, Golden 2, I did not rank Hoar as I did not know the candidate. I did rank Poliquin as I would not vote for him if he were running for his life. After the initial vote Poliquin lead by a VERY slim margin, followed by Golden, Bond and Hoar. Bond and Hoar were mathematically eliminated at the same time because there was no way either could win. More than 3/4 of voters for those two ranked Golden as their 2nd choice. Some voted Poliquin and some had no more rankings, giving Golden the greater share of 2nd rankings pushing him past Poliquin in numbers. NO ONE argued the numbers but Poliquin tried a couple of resounding failures in court. You can find exact numbers on the Maine Sec of State site. Most annoying to me was that Poliquin knew the rules when he ran, and he ran with those rules until it was apparent, he might lose. The process is so simple. With 4 candidates on our ballot, it would have been possible for one candidate to be seated with less than 30% of the vote. So the lowest vote getter is eliminated and the ballots checked for other preferences and those ballots are assigned to second or subsequent choices. Rinse and repeat for a larger field of candidates such as Maine had for its gubernatorial primary in 2018. I have no personal stake in any party any person votes in/for but the process is a good one and gives more voters a better say in who takes office when they vote.

  2. Again: it is past time for a petition drive to end ranked choice voting by putting it on the ballot. Why have we let one of Lisa’s minions rob us of the simplicity of our election system?

  3. If you want to get rid of rank voting this is how using rank voting:
    1. Don’t rank any Democrat on your ballot, use the write in spot before ranking a Democrat.
    2. Don’t rank and Republican that supports rank voting.
    3. Rank any and every Republican on the ballot, even if they are not your first choice and have RINO leanings…unless of course they support rank voting.
    4. Don’t rank any candidate more than once as your ballot will be spoiled and your vote will not count.
    5. Let your legislator and the entire Legislature know they should dump rank voting at the first opportunity.

    A couple of things to keep in mind regarding rank voting:
    If you rank a candidate more than once your ballot will not be counted at all and your voted is spoiled.
    If you rank multiple candidates with the same rank your ballot will not be counted at all and your voted is spoiled.
    If you do not rank all candidates on the ballot your ballot is left open to be filled out by any nefarious actors, there is no way to say you didn’t want to rank more candidates.
    The 3rd ranked candidate will likely never be counted from your ballot and the 4th place will never be counted, if you rank the candidate you dislike the most at 4th place you are not voting for that candidate as that is a mathematical improbability.
    You can rank a write in candidate at any time, but if they’ve received fewer votes than any of the remaining candidates the next candidate you’ve ranked will be counted.

    This system is necessarily confusing by design and needs to be replaced as soon as possible.

    • Interesting… not what I’ve heard from others. I’m not sure that voting for the same candidate multiple times will cause a ballot to be discarded.

      • It absolutely will, though I would be happy should someone show me a statement from the division of elections saying it will not spoil the ballot.

      • Reed,
        There’s a lot of people claiming to be something they are not and trying to confuse the issue. You should read the rules for yourself and certainly not believe what random folks on the internet tell you and definitely don’t believe what people who know you say, there’s little worse than a echo chamber when it comes to sharing the facts.

      • reed, I confirmed with the division of elections. You CAN rank the same candidate and your ballot WILL be counted. My earlier reply was wrong.
        Here is what the division says: “Your vote only counts once, even if you rank a candidate more than once. When a candidate is eliminated in a round, they are eliminated from all future rounds.”
        Thus, ranking the same candidate adds no value, but it will not – by itself – create a spoiled ballot.

        • Weird because their previous literature said that it would result in a spoiled ballot. Might need to see what the statute language actually says about it. Even in the literature in this article it says that you need to get a new ballot.

    • Steve-O, your comment is valuable. Please increase its as follows.
      1) Do not have two categories of points (numbered and non-numbered). Make them all numbered to avoid confusion.
      2) Consolidate the points and remove repetition.
      3) After consolidation, further reduce the number of words by 40%.

      .

      • Wayne,
        I appreciate your comment, I probably should have made two distinct comments instead of a list of steps on how to get rid of rank choice voting followed by a rank choice informational.

  4. When the hardcore leftists pushing this debacle lose, will they push to have it overturned through a future election?

  5. Don’t blame me, I was one of the 50.55% who voted against this diabolical disaster.
    .
    What I want to know is how do we get this back on the ballot for a do-over, a second chance to vote it down
    now that people are realizing who is behind it, and what an absolute mess for Alaska’s future it is?

    • The process for an Initiative is spelled out in the Alaska Constitution and Alaska Statutes. The Statutes set out the requirements for your committee, filings, and signature gathering. Additional Statutes and regs govern your fundraising.
      Before you start the extensive and complex process, may I suggest you draft your proposal and run it past a trusted Legislator who can have it reviewed, and if needed, re-drafted by the Legislature’s drafting attorneys, aka: “Leg Legal.” These are the arbiters of the Alaska style manual and can best prepare the complex initiative to undue Rank Choice Voting.
      A weakness of Alaska’s initiative process is the lack of external review to catch errors or omissions in the proposed language. It’s terrible to go through all the signature gathering only to find an error in the initiative and you have to start over.
      The progenitors of Ranked Choice spent $7m, you could probably undo it for less, if they don’t simply use your efforts as a mechanism to generate funds for themselves.
      Easier is to Bullet vote, elect a solid Republican Legislature that commits to working together, not just railing against everyone, everything, all of the time, as insufficiently perfect.
      Do carefully understand Steve-O’s points above. Write it’s are great way to prevent your vote from electing someone you don’t want!
      Best of luck to your initiative effort!

      • Bullet voting is bad advice. If you bullet vote and your candidate doesn’t make it, your ballot becomes worthless. Remember that ranked choice is a subtraction problem, where the totals after each round are divided by the remaining total.

        For example: Candidate A, B, C & D get 25%, 20%, 15%, and 10% of the vote respectively. Say that the rank is also in order, A=1, B=2, C=3 & D=4. In the first round, with 100 total votes cast, each candidate gets that number of votes, 25, 20, 15 & 10. Their totals are divided by the total number of votes cast. Second choices are also in order, A second choice is B, B second choice is C, C second choice is D, and D second choice is A.

        In round 2, Candidate D is dropped, so 10 votes are eliminated, and you divide the new totals by 90, the remaining votes. New totals are A – 25+20 = 45, B – 20+15 = 35, C – 15+0 = 0 (because D is gone). Do the division, A – 45/90 = 50%, and B – 35/90 = 39%, so this goes to a round 3 because nobody got 50%+1.

        The weirdness and unpredictability with this takes place when people rank their second and third choices in unexpected ways.

        It is the second and third votes that drive this bus and determine the final outcome. Getting cute like bullet voting will only ensure your ballot never counts if your guy (or gal) doesn’t make the second or third rounds. Refusal to rank a second choice ONLY ensures half your vote goes to the opposition (democrat or indy like Walker), which is really poor (or well deserved) payback.

        Remember Randy’s piece on this a few months ago. Rank you candidates. NEVER rank a democrat. Cheers –

      • Bullet vote is a poor strategy. If your bullet vote is for the 3rd or 4th place candidate, the number of votes decline and the worst choice effectively gains part of your vote when the bullet vote dies.
        Always pick at least a second choice, so that the worst choice stays with the same count and percentage of the vote.

        Write-ins are always bad, as they die immediately as a 5th place vote. Only exception to this was Lisa in 2010.

        Remember the ranked choice is a subtraction problem, where the new total is divided by the original total MINUS the 4th place candidate. In the second round, if the 4th place candidate got 10% of the total vote, the new totals are divided by 90%.

        Yeah, it is intentionally confusing. Happily, it seems to be confusing the left worse than the rest of us. Cheers –

  6. “Rank Choice Voting” … This will eventually go down in history as a bad experiment, devised by power greedy // manipulative // nefarious individuals, and udderly detrimental to Alaska and Alaskans.

  7. We need a constructional convention. Their was nothing wrong with the system as it was , now it’s all mucked up and we are going to have someone we do not want shoved down our throats. Rank choice voting is bure bull shot,. I also need to say if we send Palin to DC, we are fools, she is in this for herself and nothing but,. What an embarrassment,. I honestly do not know who is worst Palin and Merkowski

  8. We need a legislature that will return our voting process to one person one vote by showing up at a poling station with proper ID, signing the register and be given a ballot to vote there and then…..it is our right and also is a privilege to do so…we were not well served by the entire legislative leadership in both the house and Senate and the Administration was AOL on any form of election reform especially the LT…who could at least worked on purging the voter rolls of 1000’s of people no longer in Alaska.

  9. I voted against this confusing ranked choice voting scheme as well in 2020. Put down your one choice/vote only and skip the rest. We should also do away (by petition) with the mail in voting process locally (in Anchorage) that was pushed on us by the Assembly back in 2015 for 2017.

    “The Anchorage Assembly unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night to support conducting the 2017 city election by mail, rather than by in-person polling precincts.

    In a vote-by-mail election, the city will automatically mail ballots to every registered voter in Anchorage, deputy clerk Amanda Moser said in a recent interview. Voters would no longer visit a polling precinct on Election Day to fill out a ballot. (December 8, 2015 ADN)

  10. It’s very simple. Rank the true conservatives, and leave the RINOS/independents/Democrats/socialists off your ballot. It’s too easy for them to “flip some numbers” if you rank a bad candidate

  11. I’m a conservative, and love RCV so far. In this election for example, I can vote for NB as #1, SP as #2, and there is 0% chance of a liberal getting in there…If I was paranoid I could put MP #3 to prevent AG for sure, but he has no chance anyway due to RCV. And the same thing will happen to LM; she will get eliminated and a conservative will get on top. If we had had RCV back in the day, LM could never have won her write in as the cons would not have split their vote. The only risk RCV is if conservatives are just too dumb to choose a #2 & #3…but I think liberals are more likely to be dumb like this.

  12. Well when we allow out of state signature gatherers, that’s how stuff gets on the ballot. They will lie and repeat talking points to get you to sign. I politely told them to go home and leave us alone.

    • Over a year, in fact. I found that same listing myself some weeks or months ago. It’s since disappeared from their website.

      Two things not mentioned. First, Daniel Volland describes himself as a board member of ABE on his campaign website, which is absent from both this story and the story on the Assembly race. Second, ABE’s offices are co-located with The Boardroom and Ship Creek Group.

      Weeks before the 2020 general election, there was a yard across the street from New Sagaya City Market which prominently displayed campaign signs for Yes on 2 and Gary Knopp (months after he died). I think that sums it up rather neatly.

    • He died last summer but evidently was on the committee. I think the intent is to show whom is involved….? Only one remotely conservative.

    • With all due respect to the dearly departed, what I would like to know is:

      Does he still vote?

    • Since the deceased commonly vote why is it that they cannot be on ballots? And, should they win, be given the office. That they don’t show up for work would be nothing unusual and less damage would be done as they don’t sign any sweetheart contracts with unions. If we nominate and elect 100% deceased Alaska would have a far better chance of surviving.

      • OGLila; That is a pretty good idea but it would only work if we appointed a bunch of deceased judges as well…

  13. Why can’t you just vote same name for each choice? There is usually just one least bad choice, anything from Dunleavy and further left just gets worse. Dunleavy being a stooge on down from there.

    • This is the confusing part about RCV, but it’s important that everyone understand this exact scenario. The lowest scoring candidate in round 1 gets tossed, and everyone who voted for that candidate now gets their second choice added to the remaining first choice candidates. Nobody else’s second choice is counted because their first choice is still in the running (survived first round elimination).
      If there’s still no winner in round 2 tally, the lowest scoring candidate of round 2 gets tossed, and everyone who voted for them gets their next choice added into the last two candidates. So if you vote the same candidate across all choices and that candidate got thrown out in the first round, your ballot is worthless.

      Key point here is that when the round 2 vote counting starts, it’s not a tallying of everyone’s second choice. It’s tallying only the losers’ second choices and adding them to the survivors’ totals.

    • That’s my plan. Pierce Pierce Pierce and maybe a Kurka thrown in there for fourth choice

  14. Pretty sure it works as follows:

    1. Voters fill out ballots

    2. Ballots are fed into computer

    3. Magic

    4. Liberal candidate wins

  15. The irony is that Ballot Proposition 2 advertised itself as banning “dark money” from funding elections in Alaska, but hidden deep in the 25-page description was an exemption that still allows dark money for ballot propositions.

  16. Ranked Choice Voting is not complicated at all.
    .
    The leftist wins. If they do not win on the first round, keep feeding the ballots into the hopper until they do.
    .
    See, simple.

    • Especially when “conservatives” give up and concede the election to the leftist, or implore other conservatives to do such by way of defeatists attitudes as seen so often by a few here.

      Of course real conservatives wouldn’t dare implore other conservatives to follow the way of defeatism and allow leftist to prevail…

  17. Bullet voting is in reference to an election with multiple winners, like the primary where there were four candidates advancing. Ranking only 1 candidate in a single seat election with 1 winner does not increase that candidate’s odds of winning at all; if your 2nd rank is counted then your 1st had already been eliminated. The simplest instructions are to rank in order of your preference until you truly have no preference among the remaining candidates.

  18. Suzanne, I’m not sure this article is doing much to help the conservative voter understand the best strategy for using the RCV ballot. I would ask that you write another considering the following perspective.

    Bullet voting is suicide — and the primary results predict this. We need to be really on point in our messaging about this. Here’s an example:

    Bring the election results into Excel. Give every obvious libertarian vote to Nick; give every Rep(ish) vote to Nick (could be Sarah, but doesn’t matter for this example); give the most obvious Dem/SD votes to Gross (Peltola, Santa Clause, Constant, Halcro, etc); and for now leave Tara’s votes up in the air, along with let’s say everyone under 500 votes or so (the ‘others’). There will be some slop in how confident you are about redistributing the lesser-known candidates, but I end up with about 1500 votes in the ‘other’ column, and Tara has about 8700 in the primary results.

    In this distilled simulation of the top three candidates in round 1 of a general election not counting Tara’s votes, you roughly end up with Palin, Nick, and Gross all under 40%: Gross will have a 10% lead over both Nick and Palin, but nobody clears the 51% threshold in round 1. It looks something like this: Nick (26%), Palin (28%), Gross (39%).

    Now worst case: give all the Tara votes to Gross, along with all those who got under 500 votes in primary: Gross still only gets about 45%, not the 51% needed to win. Sounds great, right? You end up with something like this: Nick (26%), Palin (28%), Gross (46%).

    Best case scenario? All Tara votes and the “Others” go to Palin or Nick. Still doesn’t change much. If to Sarah, Gross still has a lead: Nick (26%), Palin (34%), Gross (39%). You’ll see why this doesn’t matter in a second.

    So regardless of where Tara’s votes go, Gross still leads either Nick or Sarah individually. Either Nick or Sarah would win round 2 _if_, and only if, their voters are selecting each other’s candidate as the alternative. But if enough conservative voters decide to bullet vote (meaning no second choice), Gross will win. Why?

    The above illustrates how a round 2 count is all but certain based on the primary results. Let’s look at what happens with bullet voting. Say a Nick voter can’t stand to fill in the oval for Palin. They bullet vote for Nick, meaning they only select him as their Round 1 choice, and leave all the other columns blank (or fill in his name for all columns – same thing as leaving them blank). They don’t select a round 2 alternative. In a round 2 count, this means the total ballot count (denominator) is just reduced and Palin’s and Gross’ vote capture increases proportionately. Gross was already leading Palin ~45% to ~30%, so with a lower number of total votes caused by Nick’s voters not selecting a round 2 candidate, Gross would exceed the 51% threshold and the 54% of the voting base that would have preferred a conservative Rep of some sort are shut out.

    How many conservative bullet voters are needed to help Gross win? Only about 15k out of an estimated 80k total Nick/Sarah voters.

    By my math, that’s less than half of either Nick or Palin’s simulated results in a round 1 vote. Bullet vote in this election, and the lack of a round 2 vote for a conservative candidate means Gross will exceed the 51% threshold in that second round. I’m happy to show my work for this if interested, but it’s pretty easy to reproduce to see what I’m talking about.

    THE BOTTOM LINE: Don’t bullet vote!! At the very, very least, if you are a conservative voter, you need to fill out Nick and Palin as 1 and 2 (my personal recommendation) or the opposite (likely how my dad will vote it). But do one or the other. If you leave off a second choice in a three way race, Gross will win. And we are almost certainly going to have a three way race (second round).

    • Bill,
      This rank voting is working as designed, it is intentionally confusing, it is designed to subvert the majority vote and there are plenty of useful idiots employed to sow confusion. This system is absolutely ridiculous and should be removed as soon as possible, in order to do that we need to have legislators who will do so and we need to vote them in using this asinine system of voting.

      Each and every conservative needs to rank every conservative or Republican or whoever is against rank choice voting if we ever want to rid ourselves of this rank way of voting.

      Do not rank just one candidate
      Do not rank one candidate as your first choice multiple times
      Rank a write in candidate before you rank a Democrat or a person who supports rank choice

  19. How is it that AL Kookesh is on the steering committee? He has been deceased since May 28 2021 and frankly i don’t believe he was doing much of anything in the year prior to his death…..

    Wiki:Albert Matthew Kookesh, Jr. (November 24, 1948 – May 28, 2021)[1] was an American politician who served as a member of the Alaska Senate. He represented District C as a Democrat from 2005 through 2013. Previously he was a member of the Alaska House of Representatives from 1997 through 2005.

  20. This is the most FU voting mess in history. If you voted for this disaster your a moron. How about we go back to 1vote for person of your choice.

    What was the name of the sleezy attorney’s who pushed this mess. ??

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