In 2020, Alaska voters passed a ballot initiative sponsored by Outside dark money that completely redesigned elections in the state. There’s an open primary and a ranked choice voting general election.
That same scheme now applies to the special election that will be used to get Alaska a representative in Congress now that Congressman Don Young has passed.
The calendar created by Ballot Measure 2 and Congressman Young’s untimely death is difficult.
The governor must declare a date for the special election, between 60 and 90 days from March 18. The earliest practical date is May 24. That means ballots for the special election must be printed by about April 24 and mailed to overseas voters, which means that a filing deadline must be set for about two weeks from now.
But that special election primary will not decide who is the temporary congressional representative for the state.
The top four vote-getters from the special election primary will advance to a special election general election, which would need to be at least 60 days later, to account for ballot printing and overseas distribution.
That special general election would fall at the end of July or early August. Under the Ballot Measure 2 scheme, the election will be a ranked choice voting special election. It could occur around Aug. 2, for example, which is a Tuesday. That date would be about as early as the Division of Elections could work the schedule, considering overseas voters.
But there’s another hitch: Because ranked choice voting can’t be counted right away — all ballots must be received and there are two weeks before overseas ballots would be in, Alaskans won’t know until the middle or end of August who their temporary representative is in Congress.
The reality is this puts the timeframe for electing a temporary congressional representative at about Aug. 16 or even later — possibly even after the regular primary election, which is Aug. 16.
Theoretically, whoever wins the special election for Congress will also want his or her name, along with whoever else wants to run for Congress, on that regular primary ballot on Aug. 16. Also on that primary ballot will be all the other races that are being contested this year — all legislative seats but one, the U.S. Senate race, and governor/lt. governor.
The regular primary election, Aug. 16, can be counted relatively quickly because it is not ranked choice voting, and the top four vote getters will go to the November general election ballot.
To review — an open primary special election, followed by a ranked choice voting special election, during the same week or month as another open primary regular election, followed by a ranked choice voting general election.
The bottom line is that Alaska voters will not have a representative in Congress for at least four months.
The new voting scheme was crafted by Scott Kendall and Jahna Lindemuth, top officers in the administration of Gov. Bill Walker. With money from an outside political group called Unite America, they convinced Alaska voters that this would be an improved system for electing leaders.
But many politicos in Alaska are less than sure that the Division of Elections can conduct so many elections in such a short period of time, especially using a ranked choice voting system never before been used in Alaska, and still convince voters that everything is on the up-and-up with the new system, which only allows for machine counting and no hand-counted audits.