The Alaska Supreme Court ruled last week that Independent candidate Al Gross was improperly removed from last year’s special U.S. House election ballot by the state’s elections department. The decision highlights the problematic nature of the recently implemented ranked-choice voting (RCV) system in Alaska.
Gross finished third in the race’s June primary, involving 48 candidates, but withdrew 57 days before the special and general elections. State law requires candidates to withdraw at least 64 days before the general election to be removed from the ballot. Despite this, the Alaska Division of Elections removed Gross from the ballot, resulting in only three candidates being listed.
Al Gross should have stayed on U.S. House ballot, Alaska Supreme Court says
Justices concluded that the Alaska Division of Elections mishandled the withdrawal of the independent who sought to replace Don Younghttps://t.co/1YvzO3z8j3 pic.twitter.com/oUvOesjHsE
— Alaskans For Honest Elections Bill 22AKHE (@907Honest) May 1, 2023
This decision contravened state law and raised questions about the RCV system’s impact on election administration. RCV involves voters ranking candidates in order of preference. The last-place finisher’s votes are reallocated to the voter’s second-choice candidate until one candidate receives a majority of votes. This system is used in both primary and general elections in Alaska.
When Gross withdrew from the race, he appeared to believe that Republican Tara Sweeney, who finished fifth in the primary, would take his place in the special and general elections. Gross even encouraged his supporters to vote for either Sweeney or Democrat Mary Peltola, who eventually won the special and general elections.
The Alaska Supreme Court’s ruling indicates that Gross’s name should have remained on the ballot for the August special election. However, how his inclusion would have affected the outcome remains uncertain.
The RCV system has been criticized for creating confusing and sometimes inaccurate election outcomes. For example, election officials in an Oakland school board race announced two months after the election that they had gotten the count wrong, leading to a lawsuit by the rightful winner.
Studies have also shown that RCV can disenfranchise certain demographics, such as nonwhite people and non-English speakers – the very groups that left-wing election organizations claim are marginalized.
Moreover, RCV often produces election results that contradict voter preferences. For example, in Peltola’s August victory, nearly 60% of voters voted for a Republican. The RCV system also played a significant role in helping Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski win against Trump-backed Kelly Tshibaka during the 2022 midterms. Murkowski benefited from being listed second on the ranked-choice ballots of Alaskan Democrats.
In response to these issues, Alaskan conservatives have launched a grassroots campaign to repeal RCV before the 2024 elections, and Republican lawmakers in the Alaska Legislature introduced measures during the 2023 legislative session seeking to repeal the system.
The Alaska Supreme Court’s ruling serves as a stark reminder of the problems associated with RCV, fueling the debate about its efficacy and fairness in the electoral process.