Alaska Voters Had Real Choices and Made Them
Every vote counted, with refreshing results.
It took more than two weeks but we have the results of the elections in Alaska. And they are, to say the least, interesting.
WaPo (“Lisa Murkowski and Mary Peltola win Alaska races, defeating Trump-backed opponents“):
Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola on Wednesday became the first Alaska Native to win a full term in Congress, securing reelection along with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who both defeated challengers endorsed by former president Donald Trump after state officials finished a final round of vote-counting.
Peltola, who made history with her August special election win, and Murkowski, a senator for two decades, led after earlier vote counts. But the centrist lawmakers’ victories were not clinched until Wednesday, when the Alaska Division of Elections redistributed votes under the state’s new ranked-choice voting system.
In the race for governor, Republican Mike Dunleavy won reelection with over 50 percent of the votes, avoiding the ranked-choice process.
Peltola and Murkowski had crossed party lines to endorse each other ahead of the election, forming an alliance rooted in the similar space they occupy on the political spectrum. Their wins cap an election season in which voters across the country tended to show a preference for incumbents in battleground races.
So, in an era of increasing calcification, we have three disparate results in simultaneous statewide elections:
- The Republican governor was handily re-elected with a first-ballot majority
- The Republican Senator was re-elected but with an instant run-off and with backing from the brand-new Democratic Representative
- The Democratic Representative was elected to a full term with backing from the veteran Republican Senator over the former Republican Governor and Vice Presidential nominee
That’s rather extraordinary.
What’s even more unusual is that voters actually had a real choice in these contests.
Dunleavy got 132,392 votes, 50.3% of the total cast, in the first round and won outright. Democrat Les Gara got 63,755 (24.2%) and nonpartisan candidate Bill Walker 53,585 (20.7%). I didn’t follow the race closely at all and have no idea how Walker’s voters would have gone in a two-candidate race. But their votes weren’t “wasted”—had Dunleavy not won outright, those who designated a second choice would have had their votes counted every bit as much as those who ranked one of the major party candidates first.
In a traditional first past the post contest, Murkowski would have won anyway, as her 113,299 (43.4%) votes were a plurality of those cast. Trump-backed Republican Kelly Tbibaka came close with 111,283 (42.6%) of the votes but, rather obviously, had next to no residual support from those who voted for third-place finisher, Democrat Pat Chesbro, who got 27,108 (10.4%) of the first-round ballots. But, again, Chesbro supporters weren’t forced to play amateur pundit and guess that their votes would be wasted and they should therefore hold their noses and vote for Murkowski to avoid the Trumpist greater evil; they were able to vote their conscience and then have their vote reallocated to their second choice.
The House race was a rerun of the special election. The two Republicans, Sarah Palin and Nick Begich, accounted for a strong majority of the first-round votes, 67,732 (25.7%) and 61,431 (23.3%), respectively, compared to Democrat Peltola’s 128,329 (48.8%). Not surprisingly, most Begich voters (44,523) preferred the other Republican to the Democrat (8,564). But not enough of them! The defectors were enough to give Peltola a landslide victory.
What we’ll never know is how this last race would have worked out under Alaska’s previous system. It’s quite possible, perhaps even likely, that Palin, as the sole Republican nominee, would have squeaked out a victory. Psychologically, it’s very hard for a long-time Republican to vote for the Democrat over even an unpalatable Republican. But the ability to vote for a more traditional Republican in the first round and then cast a protest vote in the second round changes that dynamic. And, as a bonus, actually reflects the will of those voters better.
And, again: essentially the same voters preferred three different outcomes. 263,296 Alaskans cast votes for governor; 263,148 for US Representative; and 261,242 for US Senate. The Republican governor won easily, the Democratic Representative won a second-ballot landslide, and the once-unpopular Republican Senator won a second-ballot landslide. And Donald Trump lost yet another election.