Voters in the state of Alaska appear to have approved a ballot initiative that will require the state to utilize a ranked-choice voting system beginning in 2022. 

With a ranked-choice system, voters list candidates in order of preference, rather than vote for one person. If no candidate receives more than 50% of first place rankings, election officials eliminate the last place finisher and redistribute those votes to the second choices on those ballots. The process continues until officials create a faux majority for one of the remaining candidates.

Frequently hailed as a way to increase voter choice, ranked-choice voting is, in fact, a dangerously complex process that threatens to distort election outcomes and requires a high level of voter sophistication. 

As the Wall Street Journal explained earlier this month,

“[I]n a three-candidate race, it’s possible that it if all supporters of candidate A listed him first, he would lose in the second round—but if some of them strategically listed him third, he would win, because a different candidate would be knocked out in the first round.”

Sound confusing? It is — particularly for less educated voters, elderly voters, and English language learners, who are more likely to mismark ballots or rank fewer candidates, resulting in their ballots being disqualified or exhausted before the final tally. 

Perhaps as a result of voter confusion, cities that have implemented the scheme have seen a decrease in voter turnout of approximately 3-5 percentage points.

Despite these drawbacks, Alaska voters approved the measure, making it the second state to do so. Maine approved state-wide ranked-choice voting in 2016. 

Starting in 2022, Alaska will use ranked-choice voting in all state legislative races, state-wide races, and races for national office, including U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. Alaska will also used the ranked-choice process to determine which 2024 presidential candidate receives its three electoral votes. 

This year, voters in Massachusetts rejected a similar ranked-choice ballot initiative, despite a ten million dollar campaign in support of the measure and little organized opposition.