What if Arizona used Alaska’s new RCV system?

By NED FOLEY on July 18, 2022

That’s the question I’m asking as I read stories like this one from Washington Post: “Pence endorses in Arizona governor’s race, putting him at odds with Trump“.


Arizona’s GOP gubernatorial primary on August 2 is shaping up to be major contest between the Trump and non-Trump factions of the GOP. Right now, the RealClearPolitics polling average has the Trump candidate, Kari Lake, up by 8.5 points, 39.5 to 31. But current governor Doug Ducey was on CNN’s State of the Union yesterday supporting Lake’s main opponent for the nomination, Karrin Taylor Robson, and maybe the combination of the Pence and Ducey endorsements will cause Taylor Robson to prevail in the primary. (POLITICO has this report on Ducey’s CNN appearance.)


The race between Lake and Taylor Robson is essentially a race over election denialism. Here’s how the Washington Post put its:

Lake and Taylor Robson don’t offer dramatically different visions on issues like the economy and water conservation. Both want the state to take a more muscular position on border security, for example, and want to finish Trump’s border wall. But they diverge on the 2020 election.


Lake has called the election system “rotten to the core” and has claimed, without evidence, that thousands of fraudulent votes were cast in 2020: “I refuse to stop talking about it until our elected official stand up and do something. We want people to be arrested, prosecuted and thrown in jail.”


In a televised debate in June, Lake repeated the falsehood of widespread fraud in the election and said that Joe Biden “lost the election and he shouldn’t be in the White House.” She said she would not have certified Arizona’s election results.


During the debate, Taylor Robson, who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 and helped raise $1.3 million for both of his presidential campaigns, agreed the 2020 election “was absolutely not fair” but would not say it was fraudulent.


The winner of the August 2 GOP primary is likely to face Katie Hobbs, the incumbent Secretary of State, as the Democratic nominee in November. If it’s Lake versus Hobbs in the current political climate, will the election denialist Lake become Arizona’s new governor, posed to be in power for 2024?


If Arizona had adopted Alaska’s new electoral system, the dynamic in November might be entirely different. Both Lake and Taylor Robson would be on the ballot with Hobbs (and a fourth candidate in Alaska’s “top 4” system), with voters using ranked-choice ballots to indicate their preferences among all three candidates. Assume Taylor Robson were to come in third among first-place votes, but enough of her supporters would rank Hobbs second, instead of election denialist Lake, to make Hobbs the RCV winner; that outcome would be the opposite from what (hypothetically) might happen if, given the current system, Taylor Robson’s supporters just stay home in November and sit out the binary choice between Lake and Hobbs.


It’s also worth contemplating how a “round-robin” version of RCV would apply to a three-way race between Lake, Taylor Robson, and Hobbs. Unless Hobbs is the majority choice of November voters in this three-way race, it might be that Taylor Robson would be the round-robin (i.e, Condorcet) winner: all of Lake’s supporters would prefer Taylor Robson to Hobbs, and all of Hobbs’s supporters would prefer Taylor Robson to Lake.


In short, as we watch this important election unfold, none of us should assume that the results are an accurate reflection of the electorate’s preferences; instead, the outcome may be a product of the particular electoral system that is used to translate those preferences into an officeholder. Given the possibility that the process ends up with the an election denialist becoming Arizona’s governor only because of the particular electoral system that the state uses to fill the office, the consequences of having this particular electoral system in place may indeed be grave.