Palin Loses Ranked Choice Special

Former Alaska Governor and 2008 GOP Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin fell to Democrat Mary Peltola in the at-large Alaska special election, which marked the first full usage of the state’s new Ranked Choice Voting system.

Election officials made the announcement yesterday after the deadline to accept ballots after the August 16th primary election finally expired.

At the end of the final counting, 60% of voters chose a Republican candidate, but the RCV system yielded a Democratic victor. Therefore, in a system that is designed to create a majority candidate, in this case produced a minority vote share winner.

The finalists from the jungle primary election began with Ms. Peltola, who recorded 40.2% of the vote. Ms. Palin secured 31.3%, and Nick Begich, III (R), the grandson of former Democratic US Rep. Nick Begich, Sr. (D), and the nephew of former US Senator and ex-Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D), captured 28.5%. Finishing third, Mr. Begich was eliminated from further competition, and his first-place votes were located and then allocated to the remaining two candidates via the voters’ ranking.

As we predicted, based upon the experiences of other states and cities that have used the Ranked Choice Voting system, a large number of votes were disqualified, or “exhausted” to use the Alaska vernacular.

Of the 192,158 individuals who participated in the special election and/or regular primary, a total of 3,401 ballots were listed as “blank,” meaning the individuals voted in the election but by-passed the special congressional contest. Another 342 ballots were categorized as “overvotes.” This terminology suggests the owners of such ballots voted incorrectly. Typically, it means the individual, presumably inadvertently, voted more than once for the same candidate, thus disqualifying the ballot.

The categories that likely cost Ms. Palin the election, despite the large majority voting for a Republican candidate, came in Ranked Choice Voting Round 2. Here, a total of 11,222 Begich voters did not properly manage the RCV system on their ballots, which was to rank the three candidates in the order of the individual voter’s preference.

Lawyers who challenged the Ranked Choice Voting system in other places around the country warned that their experience showed a large number of disqualified, or exhausted, ballots would be present here, which certainly proved to be the case.

This latter number added with the initial overvotes, meant a total of 11,269 Begich first-place voters saw their ballot disqualified, more than twice the number of votes (5,219) that comprised Palin’s deficit against Peltola’s final victory total. Adding this number to those who chose to by-pass the special congressional race meant that 14,965 individuals who voted in this election failed to have their ballot count in the Ranked Choice Voting process.

The second category leading to Ms. Palin’s demise were the 15,445 individuals who voted for Begich on the first ballot, but decided to support Ms. Peltola with their second choice. This is a much higher number than our pre-election estimate projection, and are chiefly responsible for the ex-Governor failing to win the general election.

A possible reason that some of these voters chose Ms. Peltola is that the Begich name identification comes from the current candidate’s family predecessors who were, and are, affiliated with the Democrats. It is possible that the multiple confusion factors present in this race also extended to Mr. Begich’s name, with many traditional Democratic voters still thinking he is a member of their party and not noticing his Republican label on the ballot.

Also adding to the confusion factor was the RCV system being used only in this special general election that was run concurrently with the regular state primary. In all other races on August 16th, voters were simply choosing one candidate to advance into the general election, where four jungle primary candidates from each race would do so. Therefore, with almost 15,000 ballots being disqualified before the end of the RCV special election process suggests a large amount of confusion within the electorate.

With the same three finalists again advancing into the regular election from the regular congressional primary that was also held on the same day (August 16th), thus producing one more confusion factor, we could see a rerun of the Ranked Choice results in the November election. If Ms. Palin or Mr. Begich were to withdraw from the regular general election, however, Ms. Peltola’s fate would then likely be sealed, since the Republican vote would then presumably overwhelm the number of her Democratic preference ballots.

While the intrigue associated with this one race has now been resolved, new questions will immediately begin to unfold for the impending general election. For now, however, Ms. Peltola will be sworn in as the House of Representatives’ newest member.

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