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After Sarah Palin's election loss, Sen. Tom Cotton calls ranked-choice voting 'a scam'

Cotton, R-Ark., suggested that the voting system that led to Palin's loss to Democrat Mary Peltola in Alaska's special election is rigged.
Image: Senator Tom Cotton
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., listens as Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies before a Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington on Oct. 27.Tom Brenner / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — After Democrat Mary Peltola defeated Sarah Palin in Alaska's special election Wednesday, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., sought to discredit the voting system Alaskans chose to implement in their state.

Cotton tweeted that Alaska's new ranked-choice voting system "is a scam to rig elections," casting doubt on the outcome of the process to fill the seat of late GOP Rep. Don Young.

"60% of Alaska voters voted for a Republican, but thanks to a convoluted process and ballot exhaustion — which disenfranchises voters — a Democrat 'won,'" Cotton said in a separate tweet.

This is the first time Alaskans used the ranked-choice system after voting to adopt it in 2020.

Voters pick their member of Congress by ranking the candidates, and a write-in candidate if they choose to do so, in order of preference. If a candidate wins a majority of votes on the first round, that person wins the race. But if no candidate receives a majority of the vote, the person with the lowest number of votes is eliminated, and the second-choice votes of that candidate's supporters will go to the remaining candidates. The rounds continue until two candidates are left, and the person with the most votes wins.

As of Thursday morning, with 93% of votes counted in the ranked-choice results, Peltola defeated Palin 51.5% to 48.5%.

Palin also criticized the system after losing, saying in a statement that it was a "mistake" that was originally "sold as the way to make elections better reflect the will of the people." But now, she said, Alaska and the rest of America see "the exact opposite is true."

"The people of Alaska do not want the destructive democrat agenda to rule our land and our lives, but that’s what resulted from someone’s experiment with this new crazy, convoluted, confusing ranked-choice voting system," she said. "It’s effectively disenfranchised 60% of Alaska voters."

In response to Cotton, retiring Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., tweeted, "Ranked choice voting gives all Americans a voice and not the extremes of a party. So youd be outta luck. No wonder you don’t like it."

Former Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, who left the Republican Party to become a Libertarian in 2020 before retiring from Congress, tweeted, "The problem for the Republican Party in Alaska wasn’t ranked-choice voting; it was their candidates. Requiring a candidate to get more than 50% to be elected isn’t a scam; it’s sensible. Let’s get ranked-choice voting everywhere."

Michael Steele, who served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2009 to 2011, tweeted, "Wrong. Again, Tom. Would love to see your tweet if Palin had won. And exactly how does #RCV “rig elections”, again? Typical BS claptrap and no facts. Defeat. It’s a real thing, Tom."

According to the Alaska Division of Elections, the system benefits voters. "By ranking multiple candidates, you can still have a voice in who gets elected even if your top choice does not win," its website says. "Ranking multiple candidates ensures your vote will go toward your second, third, fourth, or fifth choice if your top choice is eliminated, giving you more voice in who wins."

Palin, the GOP's vice presidential nominee in 2008, will have another chance at a political comeback. She will run against Peltola and Republican Nick Begich again in November, which will determine who will serve a full two-year term in the House.

For her part, Peltola served in the state Legislature for 10 years and will be the first Alaska Native in Congress. Until her election, she had been working as the executive director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

CORRECTION (Sept. 1, 2022, 2:59 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated who is on the ballot in Alaska’s general election. Republican Tara Sweeney suspended her campaign last week after advancing to the election in last month’s primary.