Alaskans Approve Shift to Ranked-Choice Voting

St. Louis residents agree to shift to approval voting for local primaries.


Alaska will be joining Maine in allowing its voters to rank candidates for office rather than having to settle for just one.

The full numbers are finally in for Alaska Ballot Measure 2, which will implement ranked-choice voting in the state. It has passed (barely) with 50.6 percent of the voters' approval.

Ranked-choice voting allows citizens to rank candidates for office in order of their support. In order to win, the top candidate must receive more than 50 percent of the vote. If he or she does not, the candidate who received the fewest votes is eliminated and the vote is recounted. For every voter who selected the eliminated candidate, now their second-choice is counted as their vote. This continues until one candidate passes the 50 percent threshold, and that candidate is deemed the winner.

Ranked-choice voting allows greater room for third-party and independent candidates to draw votes without citizens feeling like they have to "throw their vote away." It doesn't necessarily change election outcomes—even with three opponents, Republican Maine Sen. Susan Collins got 51.1 percent of the vote on Election Day to keep her seat, and so the state's ranked-choice mechanisms didn't apply. But it can change—and on occasion, has changed—results if voters are too lukewarm on a frontrunner.

In Alaska, Measure 2 will implement ranked-choice voting for state and congressional offices, and it also changes how the primaries work. They'll be shifting to an open primary where voters can choose among candidates regardless of political affiliation. The top four will then advance to the November election, where ranked-choice selection will determine the winner. This is an intriguing loosening of the "top-two primary" system in states like California and Washington, where only two candidates (regardless of party) make it to the November votes, cutting ballot access for third-party candidates and sometimes even leaving voters only with the choice between two people from the same party.

Ranked-choice voting won't, however, be coming to Massachusetts. Voters rejected a ballot initiative to introduce ranked-choice voting there, with only 45.08 percent of voters supporting it with 99 percent of precincts reporting.

A different type of election will be introduced in St. Louis, again thanks to the result of a local ballot proposition. Proposition D will bring approval voting to primaries for local city offices. In approval voting, voters don't need to choose just one candidate, nor do they rank the candidates. Instead, they can simply vote in favor of each candidate they like and would accept to that office. Then the candidate with the most approval votes wins.

In St. Louis, by a vote of 68 percent, citizens agreed to implement a system of approval voting for the March primaries for city elections. In the primary, voters will choose however many candidates they approve of for each office. The top two vote-getters will then face off in the April vote in a more traditional runoff election.

This isn't quite as significant a change in voting as in Alaska and Maine, and St. Louis Public Radio notes that part of the impetus for the shift is that St. Louis's city races are so heavily dominated by Democrats (it hasn't had a Republican mayor since 1943) that the big fight is in the primary between several Democratic candidates, and sometimes the "winner" actually has only 40 percent of the vote or less. Approval voting will, proponents hope, ensure that the candidates that the most voters support make it to the runoff.

But as St. Louis Public Radio also points out, narrowing the pool down to two candidates for the runoff may end up having the same effect as it does in California—cutting out third parties. It could even damage their access to the ballot in the long term:

There are five political parties in Missouri—Republican, Democratic, Green, Constitutional and Libertarian—that appear on the ballot automatically in every election. But if an established party's candidate fails to get 2 percent of the votes cast in two straight elections in a county, it loses established party status in that county.

Proposition D takes away three opportunities for third parties in St. Louis to reach that goal, said Don Fitz, the outreach coordinator for the Green Party of St. Louis.

"And so it would be much, much more difficult for any small party, whether it's the Green Party or the Libertarian Party to maintain ballot status," he said. "And it's another form of favoritism for the Democrats and Republicans to do for themselves."

They'll be able to see next spring how it affects the election results.

NEXT: Worried About Money in Politics? The 2020 Election Showed Political Cash Can't Buy Electoral Victory.

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  1. I like my scheme better.

    1. Elect the top three winners in each district.

    2. Each winner proxies however many votes they got in the election. Yes, voting in the legislature gets slightly more complicated.

    3. Every voter can submit their name as a volunteer.

    4. One volunteer is chosen at random as a legislator, proxying all the remaining votes.

    I especially like the volunteer bit. People who hate all the choices would vote for random tenth-party candidates, or maybe there’d be a “none of the above” choice, so volunteers could end up out-voting the “real” legislators. It would scare the professionals to death.

    1. Two candidates enter, one candidate leaves!

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      3. Ranked choice should also include the option of “None of them!”

    2. I like it, but you are rolling the dice on getting a nutjob volunteer.

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  2. Ranked-choice voting allows greater room for third-party and independent candidates to draw votes without citizens feeling like they have to “throw their vote away.”

    Nonsense. What it CAUSES is confusion and ignorant choices from most voters who end up feeling compelled to cast votes for more candidates than they even have information about. This system is not going to impel a search for more voting information. It simply forces people to believe that they have more information than they actually have.

    For a tiny minority of voters, who are basically political junkies, it may give them all sorts of opportunities to pretend that ‘my vote matters so I shouldn’t throw it away’. Unfortunately that pretense is a sign of stupidity because your vote doesn’t matter and that’s the truth of the matter.

    1. What it CAUSES is confusion and ignorant choices from most voters who end up feeling compelled to cast votes for more candidates than they even have information about
      Firstly, where’s the data. Secondly, you must be one of those “intellectuals”. Thus, give me a rimjob or fuck off.

    2. Zeroeth: what scares proggies and statists generally more than anything is independent people, who think and act for themselves.

      What scares you is not the idea of ignorant voters voting dumbly, but the idea of voters having more choice than Statist Party A and Statist Party B.

      You are scared shitless that this idea might spread. Sucks to be you.

    3. the majority, indeed, are too lazy and will not seek information….. because the majority votes straight party tickets every time. but there are a significant number of people who vote because they want the other side to lose. those people could vote for the third party, without any fear it will throw the election. (if the guy they hate crosses 50% before the 3rd party candidate is eliminated….. their guy never was going to win.) if their candidate does really poorly, having the 3rd party as their second choice could still achieve their goal of not letting the guy they hate win.

    4. Your fearmongering would be more credible if it were based on actual data from the jurisdictions that already use ranked-choice voting. In fact, none of your ‘parade of horribles’ has occurred.

      1. The reality is many of those places that implement it, repeal it a couple elections later. Which is why it still seems to be ‘new’ even though it is over 100 years old.

        The reason its repealed is because, in practice, the reasons to repeal soon outweigh the reasons to keep a now existing status quo in place. Those reasons are known by everyone who’s ever done surveys. You don’t do forced ranking. Because people are annoyed by that and they make more mistakes. And all the jabber jabber about RCV leads towards forced ranking.

      2. And as an aside – the one jurisdiction that has had it in place for 100 years – Australia – had to institute mandatory voting a decade after it implemented AV (RCV). Not so much that turnout fell because of AV. It did but that may have been coincidence. But the drop in turnout definitely undermined the notion that AV would be preferred by voters because they would have some meaningful choice.

      3. Look at Oakland, CA.
        The first time it was tried the third place vote getter “won” the election and she was terrible, completely unsuited for leadership.

    5. It can’t possibly create more ignorance than we already have. You don’t have to vote for multiple candidates. If people feel compelled to put in numerous choices, then that is categorized as confusion.

      What it does eliminate is “Lesser of two evils” voting. Where your choice isn’t about who you want but rather based on voting against who you fear.

      The only folks that should be against it are partisan stooges that care more about party than policy.

    6. This system is not going to impel a search for more voting information.

      Is that what we’re doing? Because I do not believe this system was ever put out there as a way to get voters to inform themselves about candidates.

      And . . . so what? The *current* system does not impel a search for more voting information. How many people voted against Trump or Biden because of their fears? How many people actually know the details of Trump’s term or Biden’s fifty years in public office?

      As such, I don’t consider a voting system where people vote their fears to be a drawback – its no worse than what we have already.

  3. sarc’s election reform: a non-vote or empty ballot counts towards “None Of The Above.” If None Of The Above wins then the office remains empty for the term.

    1. I would modify it to have None of the Above already checked, and the voter has to explicitly opt out of that choice.

    2. My libertopia has a “soft revolution” feature: if more than 10% of districts actually choose “none of the above”, every single person who has ever run for the legislature is immediately forbidden from ever running again, and this means the current legislature is fired right now; with a new election in a week, all candidates having no prior experience.

      1. So apathy is a cue to get apathetic people to give a hoot?

        1. I figure the prime safeguard in any constitution is making it easy to shake up the powers that be, to toss them out of office, and make them fear for their pensions and campaign slush funds.

        2. If, after everyone is fired, people are still apathetic – maybe its because they didn’t need anyone in those positions in the first place?

    3. And every day the office remains empty, laws picked randomly by computer will be deleted from the books.

      1. And not only no services rendered, no taxes collected.

    4. My election reform – if you lose the election you are publicly executed immediately.

      If you win the election you are publicly executed when your term is over. Don’t run for office unless its for something that important.

  4. Ranked voting is how a real hitler can get elected. If I want my guy gop candidate in my next choice is not going to be for the democrat so I will give my second vote to who I believe to be the most likely loser thinking he wont get any and the dem voter will do the same as me and give his second vote to probably the same loser. In the end the worse person actually gets the most second votes and wins

    1. That’s pretty much exactly backwards from how ranked choice voting really works.

      If you really want your guy GOP candidate and no other, then you’re not going to make a second choice. The only reason you’d give the third-party candidate your second choice is because you think he/she’d be ‘good enough’ (that is, not hitler).

      And the only way the third-party person would get both the R and D second votes is if R and D had already tied for fewest votes in the first round – that is, less than the third-party candidate got in the first round.

      1. I’m not sure – it almost sounds as though you are describing the preference truncation problem. IRV discard produces the non-monotonicity problem. That is, it is possible that a sincere vote putting your candidate first and some other candidate 2nd can actually cause your candidate to lose, whereas, had you insincerely put your candidate 2nd, YOUR CANDIDATE WOULD HAVE WON. Rationally, given non-monotonicity, you are safest just bullet voting. To prevent bullet voting, Australia requires that ALL candidates on the ranked ballot MUST BE VOTED FOR. If this is done, the ballot is considered spoiled and is discarded. I’ve written about this before. Because of mandatory voting and the requirement to rank all candidates, it produces “Donkey Voting”. Look it up.

    2. But Trump is the real Hitler! He having a tan is no coincidence.

    3. That isn’t how ranked voting works.

      If you vote:

      1) Gop Guy
      2) Loser Guy

      and the other guy votes

      1) Dem guy
      2) Loser Guy

      Then after the first round, the most likely thing to happen is loser guy is eliminated, and anyone who had Loser Guy as their first choice would advance to the Second choice. If for some strange reason, GOP Guy actually had the least votes, then ONLY you would vote for Loser Guy. The other person’s vote for Dem guy stays.

      1. Well, maybe. Problem is that the candidate actually preferred by they MAJORITY may come in 3rd in terms of first place votes. The MAJORITY candidate is the person would have beaten either of the other candidates had they gone head to head, one-on-on. The Condorcet algorithm emulates a round robin tournament and uses all of the voter preference information (that is, VOTES), unlike IRV which throw preference information (VOTES) away. It is a terrible system and I don’t understand why none of the issues I’m raising here has come up.

        1. Yay, somebody understands. “Ranked Choice” is almost always a euphemism for instant-runoff, and instant runoff might be the only system that causes even more polarization than the FPP we have now (because IR puts too much value on first-place votes). Even the top-two primary is better for 3rd parties than IR, so if you hate the top-two, then you should hate IR.

          Condorcet, aka “Instant Round-Robin” (a name that I coined a few years ago), is the gold standard. However, approval voting (AV) is nearly as good and *much* easier to understand.

    4. Sounds like the Borda Count – that’s a ranked magnitude system. Alaska obviously adopted Instant Runoff and its unconstitutional discard algorith.

      I wish Mr. Shackford would research Condorcet and look at IRV’s manifold problems, including non-monotonicity, throwing away voter preference information that is needed to find the true majority winner, and the terrible logistical problems it creates because, thanks to discard, there will be a necessary collection of ballots for CENTRAL TABULATION.

      IRV is a non-reform and there is no real evidence that it has created a robust and competitive multiparty system in Australia where it has been in use for over a century.

  5. Ranked-choice voting allows greater room for third-party and independent candidates to draw votes without citizens feeling like they have to “throw their vote away Here is More information.

    1. No, sadly, this “ranked-choice voting” is merely instant-runoff by another name, and that’s merely another way for you to throw your vote away.

  6. Why should a libertarian candidate with 1% support get a ballot slot while a democrat polling at 15% doesn’t?

    Jungle primaries make more sense in that regard.

  7. The St. Louis voting scheme is actually designed to be like California. Feature, not a bug. But instead of Republicans and Democrats going head-to-head, you will have a racial divide among just Democrats.

    Theoretically, you would end up with a runoff between a black democrat from North City and a white democrat from South City.

    What will end up happening though, is you’ll have a runoff between two of whichever side figures out how to game the system better, and / or is better organized. Voters will end up with fewer choices, not more.

  8. California’s top two system was mentioned. A lot of people who backed that move were Republicans. Not sure what their thinking was, and simply calling them RINOs is not helping.

    But regardless, the incentive is for parties to tightly control who can run under their banner. The Republicans can’t do that because anyone registered as a Republican for at least six months (depending on the race) can run as Republican. So the party will nominate and/or endorse someone for a race, only two see two gadflies enter and dilute the vote so they don’t make top two. Democrats, on the other hand, have a fairly solid political machine and can pressure unwanted candidates to stay out of the race. So they’ll run a strong candidate (the incumbent), and throwaway party loyalist who’s next in line, and no one else spoiling for anyone. It’s a system that promotes the political machines, and the Republicans don’t have in this state. (Which is both a blessing and a curse).

    A top three or top four system, however, is another monkeywrench entirely.

    1. California GOP supported the stupid Top Two system as part of a deal that they worked out with the Democrats, to give them a “Permanent Minority”. They figured that they had permanently lost a chance at winning the state legislature, so they settled for exerting EXACTLY the control that you suggest. They would have a minority, but those seats would be theirs to hand out as rewards to the loyal.

      Of course, those little traitors didn’t realize that they were still vulnerable to Democrats. In San Francisco, 75% of the city will vote some flavor of Dem. But even in Orange County and San Diego, there will be at least 40% democrats. So they are actually seeing their “permanent” seats fall one by one. And good. They don’t deserve them.

  9. Yeah sure another method to game the system. Hilarious.

  10. If EVERYBODY’s second choice was also counted, then fine, but if only the second choice of the thrown out’s are counted, then those folks’ get two votes while everyone else gets but one.

    For the democratic “party of fairness”, how exactly is this fair?

    1. Ranked choice is basically an instant run-off system without the increased cost and logistics of holding an entirely new election. Of course established players are going to figure a way to game any system, but I think this is probably preferable to most of the status quo state election methods.

      1. I think I understand your what you are saying. IRV, due to discard, will allow some lower ranked choices to count and other lower ranked choices to not be counted. “Fair” (as well as constitutionally required) is for all the ranked votes to count.

      2. You are correct that IRV emulates a sequential runoff. A sequential runoff MIGHT have a slight advantage over a single vote majority system and, most importantly, it would be perfectly legal. However, as you note, it is expensive. Social Choice Theory (voting science) shows, however, that if all voter preferences could be registered (a ranked ballot) it may often be the case that someone eliminate before getting to the final two WOULD HAVE BEEN THE ACTUAL WINNER. Condorcet is the only voting system that will find this person.

        1. Sequential runoff turns out to behave very differently than instant runoff. It’s because of the information made available to voters between ballot rounds. Not only do voters see who is eliminated, but they see who is leading. Giving voters more information changes everything, which is why incumbent politicians hate it.

          And if you think politicians really care about the cost of running another ballot cycle, just looks at how they act whenever a school-levy referendum fails. You can bet the farm that those weasels will run the very same tax increase back out there at tax-payer expense just as soon as the law allows, so don’t insult me by playing the election-expense card.

    2. It’s fair because ranked choice voting is nothing like your parody of it.

      It’s not the “everyone’s second choice is counted”, it’s “everyone’s choice is counted in the second round”.

    3. This is not true. In the first round, everyone’s vote is counted.

      In the second round, everyone’s vote is counted. For most, the vote counted is their 1st choice. For everyone else, it is their second choice. But everyone gets two votes.

      1. In every round, instant-runoff over-weights first-choice votes. In every round, lesser-ranked information is completely ignored.

        To put it another way: If one candidate would rob Peter to buy Paul’s vote while another would rob Paul to buy Peter’s, then the 3rd party capable administrator compromise that is “everyone’s 2nd choice” will be the candidate who is eliminated in round 1.

        Thus the tragedy of instant-runoff style ranked-choice is that it rewards polarization while eliminating compromise everyone can live with. The result is that every election will see somebody robbing someone else.

        Another way of condemning instant-runoff is that it heavily rewards first-place votes while not penalizing last-place votes. Indeed, it is mathematically possible (and sometimes probable) that the winner of a ranked-choice election will be the candidate who gets the most LAST-place votes.

    4. You could do this easily simply by assigning a value to each choice – 5 guys, your first pick is worth 5 points, second 4, etc.

      Add up all the points each candidate gets.

      Top points wins.

      1. That would work, but it’s not what we’ve been offered in MA, and I don’t think that’s how ME works either. AK? Dunno.

      2. That’s Borda Count, and it works for decisions where all voters are non-partisans truly interested in the preference rather than getting their way. In other words, it might choose the best college football team in the nation, but voters will “game the system” before they can choose a good president.

    5. To clarify, if the ballot allowed someone to put the same name in each slot all the way down and then if no majority was present after compiling all of the first slots, the count went on to all of the second slots, that would be great. But I believe that current RCV requires a different name in each slot.

      I’m not against a different system than the one that allows a plurality winner, but it needs to live up to what the common man expects it to do.

  11. I want dynamic districting: an online process by which people form their districts before electing a representative, regardless of geography.

    Think of it as self-gerrymandering.

    1. Get rid of districts altogether – you just vote for the representative you want to represent you regardless of location within the state.

      Not getting enough attention because you’re preferred rep is too busy with other people – pick a different, less overloaded one.

  12. It has passed (barely) with 50.6 percent of the voters’ approval.


    1. 50.6% of the 45% of eligible voters approved – if that’s not a mandate I don’t know what is.

  13. Georgia could have saved a bunch of money if it used ranked choice voting instead of runoff elections.

    1. Very true, and thank you for an intelligent comment. Ranked choice voting’s (RCV) appeal is it gets a majority winner with one trip to the polls.

      The way I see it, is if you have a race between a D, R and L, and the Ds and Rs are very partisan, their 2nd choice will be the Libertarian, which will no doubt lead to some L winners in lower level races. Something the St. Louis Democrats approval voting system avoids.

      What Shackford failed to mention is IMHO the best part of RCV, is that it will have a huge effect on parties, and their power to pick the nominee in a general election. It certainly avoids the scheme of getting some friend to run in the race and split your opponent’s vote where there are winners by plurality. If you think about it, there’s no need for primaries with IRV, or parties.

      1. IRV is terrible for the reasons stated. IRV will often fail to find the preferred candidate in a primary.

        1. So don’t do primaries then.

    2. Georgia could also have saved a bunch of money using approval voting or (best of all) Round-Robin ranked choice.

      In other words, ranking choices offers up loads of precious voter info, but ignoring all but first-choice votes in round 1 is a killer limitation. Ignoring last-place votes forever is another killer limitation.

      Instant Round-Robin uses all of the information to always choose the only candidate that offends the fewest voters. Approval-voting comes close, and no other system even tries. Instant Round-Robin also MOTIVATES voters to rank sincerely, while instant runoff motivates “strategic” voting such as burying your 2nd favorite.

      As soon as the major parties train their faithful to vote “strategically” in your new so-called “ranked-choice” system, you’ll learn to hate it.

  14. Nothing from Reason on the press conference yet.

  15. I really wish Mr. Shackford would do research on social choice and the discard problem.

    I welcome him to contact me, using my REASON subscription information. I’ll be happy to send the PowerPoint presentation I put together for a group of Republicans and Democrats (called BA – formerly “Better Angels” now “Braver Angels”) to explain that polarity is a systemic problem due to the voting system chosen (look up Duverger’s Law). Further that Condorcet will allow a multiparty system to evolve whereas IRV is deeply flawed and almost surely will not. I provide an example of non-monotonicity in action, using a simple 5 princinct example. It includes a first place tie vote under IRV that, upon recount resolves in favor of one candidate…who promptly loses because a recount of all the ballots suddenly causes the 3rd place candidate to win. It’s easy to see this with the IRV ballot tallies compared side-by-side the Condorcet matrix tallies.

    1. Likewise. Reason (and everyone else) can learn more about voting systems (and find me) here:

  16. They’ll be shifting to an open primary where voters can choose among candidates regardless of political affiliation.

    Ok, so, my opinion on this – I don’t like it. Here’s why.

    1. With runoff voting, do you even need a primary?

    2. Primaries should be a party thing, run by the party, costs and security borne and provided by the party. Who votes in it – if, indeed, anyone is allowed to vote in it at all – should be at the discretion of the party.

    Why? Because primaries are tools for the parties to figure out which candidate to line up behind and pool resources for. That’s it.

    What they want or need to know in order to do this is the party’s business – and, of course, if party ‘members’ don’t like how the party runs its primaries . . . they can leave.

    Secondly, do the Democrats care what Republican voters want in a Democratic candidate? Possibly. In which case they could *choose* to make their primary open. No need to mandate it. And if they don’t care, then a lot of money is wasted allowing non-party members to cloud up the data.

    1. I definitely agree that party primaries should be a completely private matter for the organizations themselves to organize, fund, and oversee. However, IF public funds and resources are used for primaries then they should absolutely be open. If I’m forced to be complicit in supporting and perpetuating their collectives, then I damn well better have a say in their process. And none of that “pick one” bullshit, voters should have a say in each and every public primary race.

      Also, if I could magically implement a constitutional amendment regarding federal elections, it would be that ballots could only list candidate names, no party affiliation. If a voter wants to go straight ticket, then they can do the two minutes research it takes to actually learn their party’s candidates.

    2. 1) Yes, you need a primary. Instant-runoff motivates “strategic” (incincere) voting, so when voters are given more information between rounds, they can change their votes. By contrast, “instant” runoff railroads / stampedes voters into uninformed choices.

      2) Agreed!

      An Condorcet system does not need a primary 🙂

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