A bill in the Idaho Legislature would ban the use of ranked choice voting in all Idaho election, but experiences from Alaska show perhaps lawmakers should not be so quick to throw it out.
In ranked choice voting, candidates are ranked by preference, and if, after the first round of voting, no one has a majority, the last-place candidate is eliminated and the candidate’s supporters are reallocated to their “backup” choice. In the 2022 election, Alaska put the system to use.
Jeannette Lee, Alaska research director for the Sightline Institute, said it changed how the candidates presented themselves.
“Candidates tend to be a little bit more cooperative in their campaigns,” Lee observed. “They tend to pay more attention to issues. There’s less partisan rancor, and voters can more fully express themselves and have more choice.”
Supporters of prohibiting ranked choice voting say the bill’s purpose is to ensure the electoral process stays fair and transparent. The bill would ban this system of voting from federal, state and local elections held in Idaho.
While the system has been criticized as complex, a poll of Alaska voters after the 2022 elections found 85% reported the system was “simple,” and 66% of voters ranked multiple candidates.
Lee pointed out ranked choice voting also eliminates “strategic” voting, when a voter chooses a candidate they believe will beat the person they don’t like, rather than the candidate they like most.
“People do that because they are worried about splitting the vote,” Lee explained. “With ranked choice voting, you no longer have to worry about splitting the vote. And then, candidates themselves can jump in the race without worrying about being a spoiler.”
Along with Alaska, Maine also uses ranked choice voting. It’s used in local elections by neighboring Idaho states as well, including Oregon, Washington and about two dozen cities in Utah.