This July 28, 2022, photo shows a ballot for a mock election where people ranked the performances by drag performers at Cafecito Bonito in Anchorage in Anchorage, Alaska. Several organizations are using different methods to teach Alaskans about ranked choice voting, which will be used for the first time in a statewide race in the upcoming special U.S. House election. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

This July 28, 2022, photo shows a ballot for a mock election where people ranked the performances by drag performers at Cafecito Bonito in Anchorage in Anchorage, Alaska. Several organizations are using different methods to teach Alaskans about ranked choice voting, which will be used for the first time in a statewide race in the upcoming special U.S. House election. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Groups get creative to help Alaska voters with ranked voting

Organizations have gotten creative in trying to help voters understand how to cast their ballot, as the mock election featuring drag performers shows

By Becky Bohrer

Associated Press

JUNEAU — Drag performers shimmied up and down a walkway between café tables, as enthusiastic patrons took photos, waved cash and filled out ballots ranking the shows.

The mock election, fueled by performances that brought the din of an Anchorage café to a roar, was aimed at teaching voters about the state’s new ranked choice voting system.

The first ranked voting election under a suite of elections changes approved by Alaska voters in 2020 will be the Aug. 16 special U.S. House election featuring Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich and Democrat Mary Peltola.

Organizations have gotten creative in trying to help voters understand how to cast their ballot, as the mock election featuring drag performers shows.

Under ranked voting, ballots are counted in rounds. A candidate can win outright with more than 50% of the vote in the first round. If no one hits that threshold, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Voters who chose that candidate as their top pick have their votes count for their next choice. Rounds continue until two candidates remain, and whoever has the most votes wins.

Leaders of some of the efforts see their work as critical to getting voters comfortable with ranked voting, whether they like the system or not, and to helping voters avoid errors in casting their ballots.

“In the spirit of democracy, you need to at least understand how this works,” said Bernadette Wilson, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Alaska. The group opposed the 2020 ballot initiative but “we lost,” she said. The new system is “the law of the land, and we have an election coming up.”

While Americans for Prosperity Action-Alaska has endorsed Begich, Wilson has avoided using the actual candidates as examples in videos she’s posted on Facebook explaining the system, opting instead to demonstrate with colorful sticky notes on a whiteboard. She also did a presentation and Q&A at an Anchorage theater, an event sponsored by an education wing of the group, Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

A commenter on one of Wilson’s posts said: “I am glad she understands. Clear as mud to me.”

Wilson said she wonders how many people risk incorrectly filling out their ballot and having it rejected because “they read a comment on Facebook somewhere” or got bad information from a friend.

Maine uses ranked voting in state-level primaries and in general elections for federal offices. But Alaska’s unique system combines open primaries with ranked vote general elections. The top four finishers in each primary race, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the general election.

Supporters see ranked choice as a way to give voters more choice and to have candidates seek support from beyond their traditional bases.

Three candidates are in the House special election after elections officials and courts determined that independent Al Gross, who finished third in the special primary, withdrew from the race too late for fifth-place finisher Republican Tara Sweeney to make the ballot in his place.

The winner will serve the remainder of the late Rep. Don Young’s term, which ends early next year. Young died in March.

The special election will be on one side of the ballot. The other side will feature regular primary races, in which voters select one candidate per race.

Palin at a recent forum called ranked voting “convoluted” and complicated and said it should be changed. Former President Donald Trump, who has endorsed Palin, at a rally in Anchorage last month called ranked choice a “rigged deal.”

Palin’s campaign did not respond to questions from The Associated Press about whether the campaign is trying to help voters understand the system or encouraging them to rank a certain way. Neither did Peltola’s. Peltola, at the forum, said she was hopeful about the new system.

Begich said his job is to make sure voters mark him first. Begich, who said he would like to see Alaska return to its old system, said he’s focused on campaigning and leaving education around the process to others.

The Alaska Division of Elections, which oversees elections, has produced ads, videos, fliers and online explainers. But a candidate for governor, Democrat Les Gara, said one of its mailers risks confusing people because it uses a mock state Senate race as a ranked choice example when no state legislative races will be ranked in August. A division spokesperson did not respond to the criticism.

Some of the outreach efforts are political. For example, the National Republican Congressional Committee in a video encourages voters to “leave the Democrat blank” and only rank the Republicans in the House special election.

The Alaska Democratic Party is urging voters to “rank the candidate(s) that most closely align with their values.”

The Alaska Center Education Fund, a nonpartisan arm of the progressive-leaning The Alaska Center, helped sponsor the recent “Drag out the Vote” event in Anchorage. Kyla Kosednar, the fund’s advocacy director, said the fund’s work is focused this year on young and first-time voters.

“We try to add those fun elements into these voting events so that folks are more likely to take time out of their busy summer schedule and come learn about ranked choice voting,” Kosednar said.

Kosednar said Young’s death accelerated the timeline for educating voters. She said some people don’t realize an election is happening or are unfamiliar with the new system. She said practicing helps.

“Once people do practice it they’re like, ‘Oh, this makes total sense,’” she said.

Sarah Erkmann Ward, who owns a communications agency in Anchorage, has a contract with Alaskans for Better Elections and is doing outreach to help conservatives understand the system, she said. Alaskans for Better Elections backed the new elections system and has been working with a variety of groups in efforts to help voters understand it.

Ward said she hasn’t seen any ranked voting skeptics leave her presentations an advocate.

“It’s more of a realization that, ‘OK, this is not as hard as I thought, still not wild about the idea but I know how to vote.’ And that’s really the goal here, just to get people comfortable with how you vote.”

This July 28, 2022, photo shows drag queen Dela Rosa performing in a mock election at Cafecito Bonito in Anchorage, Alaska, where people ranked the performances by drag performers. Several organizations are using different methods to teach Alaskans about ranked choice voting, which will be used in the upcoming special U.S. House election. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

This July 28, 2022, photo shows drag queen Dela Rosa performing in a mock election at Cafecito Bonito in Anchorage, Alaska, where people ranked the performances by drag performers. Several organizations are using different methods to teach Alaskans about ranked choice voting, which will be used in the upcoming special U.S. House election. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

More in News

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Les Gara, left, discusses hospitality industry issues during a forum Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, with independent candidate Bill Walker, right, at Louie’s Douglas Inn. The forum was hosted by the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association, with the organization’s president and CEO Sarah Oates acting as the moderator. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Walker, Gara get into a bar debate

Candidates for governor talk about serving, shortages and ships during industry forum in Juneau

The Homer Police Station, as seen Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News file)
Homer teen arrested after school shooting threat

Police received a tip from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Anchorage office

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
27 new deaths reported; COVID cases, hospitalizations down overall

For the period of Sept. 28 to Oct. 4, 554 new COVID-19 cases were reported

A mini-library contains books at Daubnespeck Park on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Take a book, leave a book

Mini-library network looks to expand

Pumpkins submitted to the pumpkin decorating contest are seen at the 5th annual Kenai Fall Pumpkin Festival in Kenai, Alaska, on Oct. 10, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Pumpkins — on the ground and from above — to make appearance at annual festival

The Kenai Fall Pumpkin Festival is back on Saturday from noon to 3 p.m.

Elementary school students line up to touch a salmon during the annual egg take demonstration at the Anchor River on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Anchor Point, Alaska. Students leave the egg take event with fertilized salmon eggs to raise into fry throughout the year through the Salmon in the Classroom project hosted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Sport Fish Division. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News file)
Kids to get close-up look at fish life cycle

Alaska Department of Fish and Game representatives will conduct presentations at coho salmon egg takes

Fat Bear Week bracket (Photo courtesy Katmai National Park & Preserve)
Fat bears face off

Voters decide on the heftiest Katmai brown bear

Voting booths are set up at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Unofficial results: school bond, field house OK’d

Incumbents also came out ahead in preliminary results

Spencer McLean and his daughter, Emma McLean, show their support for Proposition 3, through which a new CES Station 1 would be constructed in Soldotna, on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Blustery weather, average turnout mark municipal election day

Up for consideration this year were city council, board of education and assembly seats, as well as a handful of propositions affecting borough schools, emergency services and legislative representation

Most Read