Alaska At-Large Concepts-5-22-21.png

July 21, 2022

4 weird things about ranked choice voting

Kelly Tshibaka was fighting the tide as she explained her take on ranked choice voting to a few dozen supporters last week. One man in the middle of the room audibly scoffed and shook his head every time the Trump-endorsed U.S. Senate candidate said the words “ranked choice.” 

Tshibaka’s advice: You can vote for just one candidate (her), but the important thing is to vote.

“The greatest risk ranked choice voting poses is voter suppression,” she said, eliciting another head shake from the scoffer, “because people do not trust the system.” 

I wouldn’t call that “suppression,” but voter mistrust and confusion could depress turnout, and if conservatives dislike ranked choice voting more than other voters, it could skew results.

We’re all swimming in unfamiliar waters with ranked choice voting. It’s kind of perfect that our first experience, the ballot for a partial U.S. House term, is a three-way race. All it really asks voters is: If your chosen candidate finishes last and is eliminated, who do you think is better among the other two?

Allow me to share some random other thoughts about ranked choice voting. (Can we call it RCV here? Just among us newsletter friends?) Maybe they’re obvious to you. But discuss them at your next barbecue or campout. I’m sure you’ll see some minds stretching.

1.Some ranked votes will never count. If your favorite candidate finishes first or second and remains there, no one will look at the other ovals you filled out. Your second and third choices only matter if you choose a candidate who gets eliminated.

2.Conservatives might become believers in RCV once the polls close in the special U.S. House race. Democrat Mary Peltola is likely to be on top on election night, with just first choices counted. So for two weeks, until the next count, Republicans will be saying, “Just wait until the third-place conservative is eliminated. Surely we’ve got enough second choices in that stack of ballots to knock out Peltola.”

3.No one’s* fourth choice will count.  If no candidate wins 50% +1 vote in the first round, the point of RCV is  to get down to two candidates, and then the one with the most votes wins. So in our upcoming three-way, the first count will set the order. The second count will come after the loser is eliminated. That leaves our final pairing. Third choices won’t* count. In a four-way, if you’re prone to odd-duck candidates, it’s possible that three of your selections will count. (*There’s a complication with write-ins … Let’s not get into that. It’s unlikely.)

4.Shrinkage. This is a concept Tshibaka explained clearly to her supporters, and I’ll try my best for you: The pool of ballots will shrink if the voters who choose the loser don’t select a second or third. That means that the number of votes it takes to get to 50% also shrinks. I guess this is another way of saying that if you don’t choose a second, other people are voting and you’re not. It seemed to set off lightbulbs among the Tshibaka crowd. Maybe it does something for you, too.

Until next week, dear readers, please examine this map. Look up your address and new precinct. Your polling place may have changed.

- Liz Ruskin

Follow me on twitter: @lruskin

Got friends who need our Alaska At-Large newsletter? Forward this email so they can subscribe free here.

Recent election coverage:

IMG_3824-1536x1152 image

Deep pockets aid Murkowski with attack ads on Tshibaka

Billionaire hedge fund founder gave $1.5 million to Alaskans for L.I.S.A., an independent PAC


Dunleavy leads early fundraising for Alaska governor’s race

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has raised more money than challengers Bill Walker and Les Gara.


Palin leads US House candidates in quarterly fundraising

Sarah Palin raised $200,000. Mary Peltola is not far behind.



If you enjoy our coverage of the 2022 elections, please consider

donating to continue to make journalism like this possible

at Alaska Public Media. Click here to give.

Read more election coverage at

We want to make sure you are getting the newsletters that matter to you. Manage your preferences, change your subscriptions, sign up for our other newsletters, and update your contact information by clicking Update Profile below.

Facebook  Instagram  Twitter  YouTube