By John Sturgeon
For The Cordova Times
It’s a question many Alaskans have yet to answer. You’ve probably heard it has something to do with ranking candidates and putting everyone into one big primary. But despite the millions spent by out-of-state billionaires to prop up Ballot Measure 2, they really haven’t explained much.
There’s a reason for that.
The truth is that the dangers of Ballot Measure 2 – all 25 pages and 74 sections – can’t be conveyed in a 15-second soundbite. What I’m about to tell you will take a few minutes to read, but it’s critical that you know why this initiative would be an unmitigated disaster for our democracy.
In 2016, Maine become the only state in the country to utilize ranked choice voting after 388,273 voters in a state of 1.3 million people approved the measure. What followed was a travesty. The very next election, a moderate congressman named Bruce Poliquin won his election by a margin of 2,632 votes. Unfortunately, the ranked choice computers didn’t agree with Maine’s voters.
After nearly two weeks of chaos, the algorithms decided voters actually preferred Poliquin’s opponent, Jared Golden. But here’s where it gets crazy. Over 8,000 voters had their ballots thrown out because they didn’t want to rank candidates they didn’t like. Others simply made a mistake when filling out the 25-bubble ballot. This meant Golden was declared the winner with less than 50 percent of the vote.
Just like that, ranked choice voting’s house of cards came crumbling down. No majority winner, the most attack ads in state history, a moderate candidate kicked out of office, and no reduction in partisanship. In fact, Poliquin called it the “nastiest” race of his career while Maine’s moderate governor deemed it “the most horrific thing in the world.”
Fast forward to 2020 where Susan Collins and Sara Gideon are locked in a drag-out brawl for a Senate seat in Maine. The race has set a new record in Maine for political spending at over $150 million, including $70 million in outside expenditures and $10 million in dark money. Maine’s primary TV market has seen $89 million in spending – more than both Chicago and Dallas.
Much like war profiteers, political operatives are the only winners as Mainers tear each other apart.
Across the country, it’s more of the same. In 2010, a San Francisco supervisor’s candidate won with 4,321 votes after 9,503 votes were thrown out during 20 rounds of computerized runoffs. To put that in simpler terms, the winner claimed just 21 percent of the votes cast that day in a runoff between two candidates.
This systemic problem has been politely termed “ballot exhaustion” by ranked choice backers. Personally, I call it ballot fraud when an American shows up to cast a vote only to have it thrown in the garbage bin. I have a feeling most Alaskans agree.
The results in San Francisco and Maine are not an anomaly. University research shows a whopping 10 to 27 percent of ballots are thrown out in an average ranked choice election. Even California Governor Gavin Newsom, who won election under ranked choice voting in 2007, criticized its false promise of greater democracy.
Then there’s the “spoiled ballots” – another fancy word for votes that don’t get counted. Remember how “butterfly ballots” cost Al Gore the 2000 presidential election when many voters struggled with a slight change in ballot design? Ranked choice is butterfly ballots on steroids. The victims? Older Alaskans, those in lower socio-economic brackets, and minorities who are not native English speakers. This isn’t theoretical – it’s exactly what university research found in San Francisco.
In Minneapolis, ranked choice voting had a direct impact on spoiled minority ballots while whites were unaffected. San Francisco saw a drop in minority turnout. The Kansas ACLU has claimed an 8 percent drop in turnout can be expected, especially among “new and casual voters.” Another peer-reviewed study found that ranked choice voting fails to achieve a majority winner 61 percent of the time – an incredible statistic that undermines the entire house of cards Ballot Measure 2 is built upon.
Folks, this is politics at its worst. That’s why ranked choice voting has already been tried and repealed in cities across the country. In Pierce County, Washington, ranked choice voting was kicked to the curb only three years after implementation by an overwhelming 71 percent of voters. Burlington, Vermont’s rejection occurred after a mayor won election with only 29 percent of the first-place votes.
This isn’t about left, right or middle. It’s about the trail of destruction left behind by ranked choice voting wherever it rears its sinister head.
It’s about the single mom working two jobs who doesn’t have time to research and rank 15 candidates just so that her vote doesn’t get thrown out. It’s about our elders and pioneers who expect to walk into that voting booth and pick their champion the same way they’ve done since statehood. It’s about the veterans who’ve lost friends and innocence fighting for our precious right to self-determination.
Most importantly, it’s about protecting your voice from a misguided experiment that is doomed to fail.
John Sturgeon is chairman of Defend Alaska Elections—Vote No on 2.