Alaska is on track to use ranked choice voting (RCV) statewide for the first time in 2022, joining Maine as the first states to use the increasingly popular reform for their highest profile elections. Alaskans gained early exposure to the reform when the Alaska Democratic Party used ranked ballots as part of the state’s 2020 Democratic presidential primary. Then, in November 2020, a majority of voters directly approved ranked choice voting (along with a top-four open primary and campaign finance transparency provisions) via Alaska’s Measure 2. Political observers expect competitive ranked choice voting contests for governor, U.S. Senate, and U.S. House, each with an incumbent likely to face multiple general election challengers.
As is typical with new reforms, the measure now faces a test in court: Kohlhaas v. Alaska. Two briefs by FairVote and other parties make persuasive cases that ranked choice voting complies with Alaska’s state constitution.
First, Alaska constitutional authority Victor Fischer, NYU Law School’s Richard Pildes, and FairVote Senior Legal Fellow Michael Parsons make the case in their brief that “the winner of an RCV election is always the candidate who wins the ‘greatest number of votes’” (p. 4). Therefore, RCV complies with an Alaska constitutional provision that the winner of gubernatorial elections shall receive the most votes.
Second, attorneys for RepresentUs and FairVote write in their brief that ranked choice voting meets other concerns raised by appellants, since it “is simple to understand, has numerous benefits, and any perceived drawbacks pale in comparison to its advantages” (p. 2).
Previous elections in Alaska showed how a plurality system struggles to accommodate a multi-candidate political culture, with high-profile elections in 2010, 2014, and 2016 failing to produce majority winners. Ranked choice voting is a better fit for the state, allowing for more than two choices while promoting winners with broad support. Kohlhaas will ultimately be decided by the Alaska Supreme Court, which will hopefully render a decision upholding the will of Alaska voters.