On April 10, Alaskan Democrats conducted their first presidential primary that employed both ranked choice voting (RCV) and vote-by-mail (VBM). Instituting these wide-sweeping changes had powerful and immediate effects in improving democratic health. Voter turnout drastically increased by 86.22% from 10,610 voters in 2016 to 19,759 voters in 2020, and zero votes were wasted.1 These improvements may be attributed to adopting voting procedures that make voting more accessible and ensure that every person’s vote counts.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, Alaska became the latest state to conduct an election entirely with VBM, joining Colorado, Utah, Hawaii, and Washington. VBM elections improve voter convenience, decrease election costs, and increase voter turnout. After the success of Alaska’s VBM election and the scrutiny Wisconsin faced when refusing to cancel in-person elections, states may look to VBM as the safest, most equitable solution.
The Alaska Democratic party should be commended for its decision to adopt RCV and VBM shifting away from an in-person caucus. Alaska is one of five states (Hawaii, Wyoming, Kansas and Nevada) using RCV in its 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary elections. RCV ensures that no person’s vote is wasted by allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If a candidate receives 15% of the first choices, they will receive a share of delegates. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that candidate as ‘number 1’ will have their votes count for their next choice. This process continues until all candidates remaining receive more than 15% of the overall vote, granting them a delegate share.
RCV prevented 2,133 votes (10.795%) in the Alaskan Primary from being wasted, meaning counting towards a candidate who does not receive a delegate share. Votes for candidates like Warren, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar were able to contribute to Biden or Sanders’ delegate count if the voter ranked either of the two finalists. Alaska’s wasted vote total provides a stark contrast from Wisconsin’s, in which 48,875 votes were wasted. This assurance that your vote will count towards a delegate share allows voters to support who they actually believe in, rather than who they believe is most likely to win.
With the continued outbreak of COVID-19, increased attention will be put on democratic reforms that make voting safer and more accessible. With Wyoming conducting a similar RCV / VBM election, states may look to Alaska and Wyoming’s results for future guidance. Depending on the success of these states’ elections, similar improvements in turnout and voter choice could lead these states to be a future blueprint for primary elections nationwide.
1 Though Senator Sanders dropped out of the race prior to the election, FairVote is still considering Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) as a valid candidate, reflecting his decision to keep his name on the ballot to collect delegates and influence the party’s platform at this year’s Democratic National Convention.