Say It Ain’t So, Joe

FINAL JEOPARDY ANSWER: He checks his smart phone every half hour to see if the results of the Alaska special election have been announced.

FINAL QUESTION: What differentiates a rabid political wonk from sane people?

Last week, the Alaska supervisor of elections announced the final results of the ranked choice voting in the special election for Congress would be released on Friday. I constantly checked my phone for updates. Finally, at 4:00 PM Alaska time, the tabulation was released. And Mary Peltola became the first Alaskan-native elected to Congress and the first Democrat to win statewide office since 2008.

I am a strong proponent of ranked choice voting (RCV) for three reasons. First, it is adminstratively efficient. Instead of holding a costly run-off election if no candidate receives a majority, voters immediately indicate how they would have cast their ballots if their preferred choice falls by the wayside. Second, I always found it somewhat unfair to allow those who did not vote in the initial round to jump in for the run-off.

But third and most importantly, in the two juristictions where RCV has been employed for statewide elections, the process rejected extreme candidates and produced winners who a significant majority of voters found to be “acceptable.” The first case is Maine. In 2010, Paul LePage was elected governor with 38.1 percent of the vote in a three-way race. He was re-elected in 2014 with 48 percent of the vote. He left office with a 39 percent approval/54 percent disapproval rating.

In November 2016, Maine voters passed Question 5, a statewide referendum to implement ranked choice voting in future elections. Passage was based largely on a desire to eliminate the potential of electing fringe minority candidates when the majority of opposing votes is split among two or more alternatives. To put it simply, supporters of ranked choice voting believe it results in more citizens being governed or represented by someone they can live with.

Which brings us back to Alaska. In the initial open primary, Peltola led all candidates with 39.66 percent followed by Sarah Palin with 30.93 percent and Nick Begich with 27.84. Under a plurality system Peltola would have won anyway. Under the RCV system, Begich was eliminated and his supporters’ second choice was allocated to the two remaining candidates. Begich’s 53,736 votes were redistributed as follows. 15,445 transferred to Peltola. 27,044 to Palin. And 11,222 considered “exhausted,” the equivalent of the Nevada option to vote for “none of the above.” The new tally gave Peltola the win with a 51.47 percent majority of the cast votes.

To no one’s suprise, Palin cried, “Foul!” Her argument being, more than 50 percent initially voted for a Republican candidate. Perhaps Sarah just does not want to accept the fact almost half of Begich supporters were telling her they preferred Peltola or refused to hold their noses and pull the lever for someone they did not want representing them. In this case, voters responded more to the candidate than to partisan preference.

So what does “Joe” have to do with this? First, Joe refers to Scarborough, not Biden. On Monday, he told viewers he still does not understand how ranked voting works. It is statements like that which discourage adoption in other jurisdictions. More importantly, Alaskan voters disagree. During exit polling, Alaskans were asked if they found RCV: very easy, somewhat easy, somewhat difficult or very difficult. The results:

Very Easy/59 percent
Somewhat Easy/26 percent
Somewhat or Very Difficult/11 percent
No Opinion/4 percent

Scarborough often asks “Morning Joe” guests for their expert opinion because “I’m just a dumb country lawyer.” If the shoe fits…

For What It’s Worth.