What the Alaska primary election results will tell us

On Aug. 16, 2022, Alaska voters head to the polls to cast votes in two key elections. The first is the regular primary, which determines which candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, Alaska governor, and some legislative races will move on to the general election in November. The second is the special general, which will produce a winner to fill out the remaining months of the late Rep. Don Young’s current term. 

It’s impossible to predict the results, of course, but what happens in this primary election will give us key insights into how the November election might play out. 

Broad support (or lack thereof) 

Years ago, closed primaries made it clear which candidate enjoyed the most support from within his/her political party. It was harder to discern how many additional votes he/she might be able to pick up once they made it to the general election. With the new open primary system, we will see how much voter support any candidate has earned irrespective of party. That’s because all candidates, regardless of political affiliation, appear on the same ballot. 

The first official “poll” 

Polling in ranked choice voting elections is trickier than in regular elections. Asking voters to articulate whom they would support in first, second, third and fourth place is obviously more difficult than asking if they support candidate A or B. So, when the results from the primary election roll in, we’ll finally see how each candidate performs with real voters. Questions we’d like to know the answers to include: 

  1. Who will represent Alaska in Congress between August and the general election? After the results from the special general are known, we will obviously have a winner. The question is, do any of the three remaining candidates (Palin, Begich, Peltola) earn a large enough majority to fend off their challengers again in the general?

    Bear in mind, the regular general election will give voters four choices, not just three. So, assuming someone like Tara Sweeney makes the top four in November, the number of votes earned by the candidates could be scrambled. But, if one of them earns more than 50% on primary night, that should leave him/her feeling fairly confident about their chances in winning the regular, two-year term.

  2. Does any candidate for U.S. Senate or the gubernatorial race have a clear majority that could transfer to the general election? Remember: in the primary, even candidates who earn more than 50% of the vote do not win outright; that scenario plays out only in the general.

    So, while voters will have to vote for and rank the top four candidates again using the ranked choice system in the November general, the primary’s results will provide strong indicators as to how that election is shaping up. 

How Alaska’s ranked choice voting system is working out 

The August ballot’s flip side will ask Alaska voters to use ranked choice voting for the first time. With three candidates for U.S Congress to rank, it will be fascinating to see how voters respond to this new reality. These are the situations we can analyze after the primary election: 

  1. How many voters refuse to engage in ranked choice by voting for only one candidate, aka “bullet” voting, or voting for the same candidate in all three positions. 
  2. How many voters rank their ballot, but for only two candidates instead of the full three. 
  3. Whether any viable write-in candidates emerge. (Note: no official write-in campaigns have launched as far as we know.)
  4. How many voters either didn’t understand how to fill out the ballot correctly or decided to make a statement by filling out the ballot in such a way that it isn’t counted. 
  5. How many voters remain in the pool if/when the winner is selected only after two or three rounds. This phenomenon occurs when voters who don’t rank multiple candidates see their only candidate eliminated right away or before the end. When the next round of vote-counting commences, those voters no longer remain in the pool, making it easier for the winning candidate to pick up a greater percentage of remaining votes. In other words, they earn a bigger slice of a smaller pie. 

Be sure to vote!

The only way we’ll know for sure what lessons are learned from the Aug. 16 election is for people to vote. Plan now for how you’ll vote whether that’s in person on election day, early in-person, absentee, etc. Alaskans deserve to have their voices heard, and there’s no substitute for voting to ensure our elected leaders know where we stand. 

Primary Election FAQs:

  • Where do I vote on election day? 

The August 16th primary is an in-person election. You can find your polling place here. 

  • Can I vote early? How? 

Yes! You can vote early in-person beginning on August 1 at several locations around the state. You can also request an absentee by-mail ballot no later than August 6. 

  • What will the August 16 ballot look like? 

Sample ballots are available online. Be sure to choose the one for your voting district, and spend some time familiarizing yourself with the ballot. 

  • I don’t understand ranked choice voting. Where can I learn more? 

The Alaska Division of Elections website is a good source for ranked choice voting information. So is the Alaskans for Better Elections site.

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