Dem 50
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Ties 1
GOP 49
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Ranked Choice Voting Changes Everything

Ranked choice voting was introduced in Alaska and Maine because it is very cold there, and making people go vote in a runoff in the dead of winter would have been inhumane. Or... wait.... maybe it was to prevent fringe candidates from acting as spoilers. We'll have to check with the staff meteorologist.

However, in practice it seems to be having an unexpected effect. This was clearly demonstrated in the recent Alaska races, especially the one for Alaska's at-large House seat. In that race, two high-profile Republicans, Sarah Palin and Nick Begich, ran as Republicans against incumbent Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK), who won a special election in August to fill out the term of the late Don Young. During the campaign for the full term beginning in Jan. 2023, Palin and Begich ran extremely negative campaigns, each throwing barrels of mud slush mixed with sled-dog poop at each other.

This was counterproductive for the Republican Party, as everyone knew that the final round of RCV would be Peltola against one of them. They should have been friendlier to each other and run more positive campaigns, each one claiming he or she could do more for Alaska than the other one and urging voters to mark the other one as the second choice. They didn't do that. Worse yet, Palin told her supporters to vote for her for first choice and not mark anyone for second choice. If she had come in third, her supporters who did that would have been eliminated rather than voting for the other Republican, Begich. Not very collegial, although very Palinish.

Peltola understood the need for second-places votes much better than Palin did. She didn't attack Palin at all. She campaigned largely on local issues, like the collapse of the salmon population. In fact, she was downright positive about Palin, saying that they bonded when both were in state government and both were pregnant at the same time. Peltola was being nice to Palin so the former governor's supporters would not hate her and be willing to mark her as the second choice after Palin. As it turned out, it didn't matter, because Begich was eliminated before Palin so it was the second-choice votes of Begich's supporters that made the difference. It would have been difficult for Peltola to cozy up to Begich because she had nothing in common with him. With Palin, Peltola could say "support a woman, even my opponent, if it comes to that."

Going forward, RCV seems to be slowly gaining momentum, so the issue of being nice to your main opponent in order to gain second-place votes may become more common, which would be a relief from the constant negative ads in most races. What is also noteworthy is that Peltola and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also endorsed each other. They were in different races so they weren't competing with each other, but we would be hard pressed to find any Democratic House candidate anywhere else in the country who endorsed a Republican running for the Senate in his or her state (or vice versa). This could have been a ploy on Peltola's part to make Palin's female supporters see electing women as the top issue, but maybe not. Maybe she just likes Murkowski and vice versa. From outward appearances they seem very compatible. In any event, RCV could change elections in surprising ways. (V)

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