Ranked-choice voting diffuses extremism. Which is why it worked against Palin.
Full St. Luis Post Dispatch Article here
Just when America needed some sign that sanity still exists in its politics, Alaska, of all places, delivers. Sarah Palin last week lost a special congressional election there. As the leader of a pernicious populist movement that foreshadowed Trumpism, Palin’s defeat at the hands of a Democrat (and the first Native Alaskan elected to Congress) is good news for democracy.
It was also a key test of ranked-choice voting, a process designed to more accurately reflect voters’ intent while making it harder for extremists to use division and blind partisanship to win. This time it appears, happily, to have worked.
Palin was chosen as John McCain’s running mate in 2008 to bring youth and charisma to a Republican presidential ticket that needed it. She quickly proved herself intellectually inadequate for the job, but with disturbing talents for disinformation and demagoguery. Her claim that Obamacare would usher in “death panels” was awarded PolitiFact’s 2009 Lie of the Year. After a McCain defeat that many in the party blamed on her, Palin resigned as governor of Alaska in mid-term without really saying why.
Given that history, Palin’s bid for Alaska’s vacant congressional seat should have been a non-starter, but unfortunately, the Trump era has made her kind of politics newly potent among some voters. Still, she ultimately lost to Democrat Mary Peltola.
The election was Alaska’s first under its ranked-choice system, in which all candidates of all parties face off in the primaries, then the top four vote-getters advance to the general election. Voters then rank the remaining candidates based on their preference, with elimination rounds automatically calculated until someone wins at least half the vote.
In this case, Peltola and Palin were the top vote-getters in the first round of the general election. Peltola got more, but neither of them hit 50%, so the third-finishing candidate, a Republican, was dropped, and his votes were divided between them based on who his voters ranked second. (The fourth candidate in the field had already dropped out.) In the end, Peltola won with 51.5% to Palin’s 48.5%.
Like clockwork, the MAGA crowd condemned the results under their standing principle that any election they lose is rigged. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, called it a “scam” because “60% of Alaska voters voted for a Republican.” That analysis, based on the fact that the third-place candidate was a Republican, only works for those who view party as everything. But enough of the voters who chose that Republican ranked the Democrat as their second choice. In other words, their vote for for anyone but Palin.
In that sense, this was a living example of how ranked-choice voting helps foster bipartisanship and diffuse extremism. And it’s why Missouri organizers, who tried and failed to get such a system on the ballot this year, should keep trying.