With most voters choosing a Republican, Alaska re-elects a Democrat to Congress

It’s the magic of Ranked-Choice Voting!

We’ve previously discussed the truly bizarre election system in Alaska, which has perfected the art of counting ballots until the correct result is reached.

The results are finally in for this month’s election for the state’s at large U.S. Representative. Alaska uses a combination open primary/ranked-choice system in their elections. The result was the same as the special election held in August, Democrat Mary Petola was re-elected to a full two-year term, despite most voters again choosing a Republican candidate.

In the Alaska system, an open primary winnows the field to the top four candidates. In the case of the U.S. House race, the final four included a single Democrat (Petola), two Republicans (former Gov. Sarah Palin and Nick Begich), and a Libertarian (Chris Bye).

Had there been a Republican primary, a Republican would have likely won the race. In the general election, the two Republicans received 49.5 percent to the Democrat’s 48.6 percent. But the Republican vote was split between two candidates.

Since no one candidate received more than half of the vote, ranked-choice voting was invoked. The second-choice preferences of the voters supporting the fourth-place Libertarian candidate Bye were distributed to the three remaining candidates. Most of his voters picked a Republican as their 2nd choice.

This pushed the Republican share above 50 percent. But since no single candidate received more than half, counting continued. The second-choice preferences of the third-place Republican Begich were distributed. Since a small share of his voters listed the Democrat as their second choice, Petola was declared the victor.

Confused? That’s the idea. Had Republicans fielded a single candidate, a Republican would have been elected to represent Alaska. Had all of Begich’s supporters listed Palin as their second-choice, Palin, not Petola, would have been the winner. Had the open primary selected only the top two candidates (the California system), Palin would have won.

The Alaska system seems perfectly designed to thwart the will of the majority of voters.