The normalizing of an abnormal and dysfunctional election system

By SUZANNE DOWNING | MUST READ ALASKA

The promoters and defenders of ranked choice voting in Alaska, per Ballot Measure 2 of 2020, have brought in the reinforcements to do public outreach. They have purchased radio ads, and are placing slanted stories in the media to calm down the voting public.

“Delays in the election results are normal,” they say. “Alaska has always waited until the overseas ballots are back,” they say. “There has always been a 15-day waiting period before the election is final,” they say.

This is, of course, a big lie wrapped in a truth.

The truth is that because Alaska, by statute, has a 15-day period for absentee by mail ballots to be received, including military ballots from overseas, the certification cannot take place until that deadline has passed. In this case, it’s Aug. 31 for the Aug. 16 special general election and regular primary election.

The lie is that Alaskans have not known who has won. It’s the special election that is in limbo because of ranked choice voting.

In previous elections, it was obvious by the first, second, or third day, and most certainly it was known within a week who among the candidates was ahead. Rare instances — the coin toss for the Aleutian seat between Rep. Carl Moses and challenger (now Rep. Bryce Edgmon) in 2006, are so unique they can be considered unicorns, or rare mythical creatures.

Never before in Alaska history have Alaskans not known who won an election for any statewide seat fully 14 days after the election was held. Until this year. Because voters were tricked into passing ranked choice voting, the second round of vote tallies won’t take place until the absentee deadline on Wednesday.

This first experiment with ranked choice voting illustrates just how unfair the system is to voters and candidates alike.

There are two obvious leaders in this race to see who will complete the term of Congress Don Young, who died March 18. Ballot Measure 2 first forced an excruciatingly long timeframe for filling that seat on a temporary basis. Alaska has not had representation in Congress for 165 days, as of this writing. And won’t have representation for several more days it appears.

Mary Peltola, a Democrat from Bethel, is currently in the lead, with Sarah Palin, a Republican, sitting eight points behind her. The suspense is with the voters who picked Nick Begich. With his votes being tossed aside, the big reveal is what bubble his voters filled in for their second choice. Did they pick Peltola or Palin?

Pollsters and prognosticators are all over the map with this. They have been engaged in a guessing game on social media.

But it looks close. It could be within a few hundred votes. That’s because the Begich voters who did not pick anyone for second place have shrunk the universe of total votes for the second round of counting, and that changes the calculus: Peltola would not need many bubbles filled in to reach 50+1.

The vote totals for the first round of counting give Peltola 39.64%, Palin 31%, and Begich 28%.

Palin is considered to have the slight edge because, like Begich, she is a Republican, and conventional wisdom is that Republicans will mark another Republican second on the ballot.

But it’s all conjecture until Aug. 31.

In the general election on Nov. 8, Alaskans will have to go through this unfair and consequential long waiting period again. For many races, it will be clear who won. All state House seats and all but one state Senate seats are on the ballot, but the vast majority of those heading to the November general election are only facing one or two other people on the ballot in their race.

But for the Murkowski vs. Tshibaka race for U.S. Senate, there will be two weeks of uncertainty.

Where this painful and unnecessary delay will be most felt is in the governor’s race, because the 15-day clock starts on Nov. 8. That means the second round of counting won’t take place until Nov. 23. Just 12 days later — with no time for court challenges or recounts — the new governor will be sworn in, by law, on Dec. 5.

That governor must have his budget, by law, to the Legislature 10 days after that — by Dec. 15.

With two candidates teaming up against Gov. Mike Dunleavy, and begging each others’ voters to “mark me first or second,” it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Democrat Les Gara or former Gov. Bill Walker could come close to winning in the second round of counting. There will not be true certainty for at least two of the candidates. And so, once again, Alaskans and their government will be paralyzed by Ballot Measure 2.

That’s not what the public relations folks want you to believe. They are telling voters that this is perfectly normal. The soft voices are whispering to Alaskans that everything is just like it was before.

It’s not. The jungle primary and ranked choice voting is an infliction on Alaska’s election system, adding uncertainty, costs, delays, and fueling suspicion about election integrity, when voters must trust the system for more than two weeks before they know who wins a race.

It’s too much to ask of Alaskans to trust this election system. Ballot Measure 2 must be repealed by the Alaska Legislature in January.

Suzanne Downing is publisher of Must Read Alaska.

The normalizing of an abnormal and dysfunctional election system