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A person completing a ballot in a mock election at Cafecito Bonito in Anchorage where people ranked the performances by drag performers, on July 28, 2022.
A person completing a ballot in a mock election at Cafecito Bonito in Anchorage where people ranked the performances by drag performers, on July 28, 2022.Mark Thiessen / AP file

What’s next for ranked-choice voting after Alaska?

Electoral reform advocates remain optimistic more states and municipalities will adopt new voting systems. 


This week Alaska became the second state to elect a member of Congress via ranked-choice voting, leaving electoral reform advocates hopeful that more states and municipalities will embrace new voting systems, even amid some GOP opposition.

Republicans lost a House seat Wednesday in Alaska’s special election to replace the late GOP Rep. Don Young, with former Democratic state Rep. Mary Peltola defeating former GOP Gov. Sarah Palin and Republican Nick Begich. 

Peltola led the field in the first round of voting, but fell short of the majority needed to win the race outright. She then defeated Palin and Begich in the instant runoffs. Because Begich came in third place, his supporters’ votes were allocated to the candidates they ranked as their second choices, handing Peltola a victory. But Republicans will have another shot at the House seat in the race for a full term in November.

The race prompted sharp criticism from Republicans, such as potential presidential contender Tom Cotton. The Arkansas senator slammed the new system as “a scam to rig elections” (his home state does use ranked-choice for overseas and military ballots in primary runoffs). Some Republicans raised similar concerns after losing a House seat in 2018 in Maine, the first state to elect a member of Congress via ranked-choice voting.

Two electoral reform advocates dismissed Cotton’s claims, noting Peltola led in the first round of voting, and suggesting the results showed that Peltola would have likely beat Palin if they faced off in a typical election.  

“Over 15,000 Begich supporters ranked Peltola second, which suggests that Sarah Palin’s problem was that she was campaigning under a strategy for the old system, not the new one,” said Nick Troiano, executive director of Unite America.

Rob Richie, president of FairVote, said GOP opposition to ranked-choice voting is “certainly something we want to address.” 

“You have a lot of Republicans who are interested and we want to maintain that,” Richie later added. “We don’t want this to be something that only one party is advancing.”

The movement toward implementing new voting systems has progressed despite opposition from both parties. 

In November, voters in Nevada will weigh in on a constitutional amendment establishing a top five primary system, where the general election winner would be determined using ranked-choice voting. Voters there need to approve the amendment in 2022 and 2024 for it to take effect in 2026. 

And nine municipalities — a record number according to Richie — have ballot initiatives that would implement ranked-choice voting in local elections. 

Troiano said Unite America has identified 18 states where new election systems could be implemented via ballot initiatives, but getting them on the ballot continues to be a challenge when it comes to fundraising, organizing, and defending them against entrenched opposition. 

Still, the advocates are hopeful more states will adopt open primaries and ranked-choice voting as more voters voice frustrations with partisan gridlock and concerns about the state of democracy. 

”I’m more hopeful now than I’ve ever been that these solutions are positioned for widespread adoption because I think the vast majority of Americans have simply had enough with a system that no longer serves them,” Troiano said.