The First Final Five Style Results Are In: Alaska Update

Elections aren’t just about who wins and who loses, it’s about how they got there and how they will govern. 

                                                   —Cara McCormick

This week we watched the first ever Final Five style election* conclude in Alaska, and now the real promise begins: Congresswoman-elect Peltola is incentivized to be a Congresswoman for all Alaskans--not just for "her" party. 


The purpose of FFV is not about changing who wins. The purpose is to change who winners are incented to represent, freeing them accomplish what is in all of their constituents best interest in Congress. Going forward, Peltola is accountable to Alaska general election voters, not just a small number of partisans who vote in summer primaries. In Peltola's case, her majority necessarily includes more Republicans and voters who have declined to affiliate with either party, than it does Democrats (details below). If she does not represent their interests and desires, voters have the power to hold her accountable in the next election--which, in this case, will be only two months from now on November 8th.

It is impossible to draw conclusions about any systemic change on the basis of one election or one winner’s behavior—instead the expected effects on campaigns, legislative behavior, and results will show over time and across many winners as FFV adoption increases. With that caution—that no “N of 1” can tell us much—it will still be interesting to see how Congresswoman Peltola governs because she was elected by a broad and diverse majority.

Here's an interesting early clue: Peltola has declared she supports Republican Lisa Murkowski in the Alaska Senate race—and she hasn't mentioned the Democrat.


As we work towards Final Five Voting across the country, we have to remember that change is change. It takes a bit of time for voters, candidates, and parties to fully grasp the fact that under FFV, you'll need to run campaigns differently and govern differently if you want to win. Stoking division--on either side--isn't likely to be the shoe-in strategy anymore... I predict they'll learn fast--the desire to win the "free market politics" created by FFV will make sure of it.




Instant Runoff Results


Alaska's Single Congressional District

Round One

Round Two--Final

Mary Peltola (D)





Sarah Palin (R)





Nick Begich (R)




Questions You're Probably Asking

What happened to Begich’s voters after he was eliminated?

After Begich came in 3rd (last place), he was eliminated from the race to narrow the field to two candidates: Palin and Peltola. 

At that point, each voter who had selected Begich as their first choice, had their single vote automatically transferred to their second choice (which would be either Palin, Peltola, or no one) in Round Two—just as if the voter came back to polls for a runoff between the final two.

If a voter did not select a second choice (i.e., chose no one), you can think of it as if that voter simply chose to stay home for the runoff between the final two. (Not participating is not unusual behavior—lots of registered voters don’t participate in every race they’re eligible to vote in—that’s why we’re always decrying voter turnout.)


Begich Voters’ Next Choices


Sarah Palin (R)            50.31%


Mary Peltola (D)           28.73%


No next choice             20.96%


Did Palin lose because of instant runoffs (i.e., ranked choice voting)?



Palin was in second place in Round One, so she would have lost even without instant runoffs (what others call 'ranked choice voting').

Another way of saying that is: Palin lost under the old rules of the game (i.e., the person with the most votes wins even if they don't have a majority) and under the new rules of the game (i.e., instant runoffs which require a majority to win).

In fact, Palin would have lost by MORE without instant runoffs. She made up ground in the second round--it just wasn't quite enough. 

How on earth did a Democrat win a statewide race in a "Red" state?

There are lots of factors. Here are a few to consider:


  • Mary Peltola, who will become the first Alaska Native woman in Congress, was very popular. She won the most votes in Round One which would have made her the winner even without instant runoffs (i.e., even without what many call ranked choice voting). And she won the majority required by the new instant runoff system.


  • The Republican party tried to run a rational “rank the red” campaign to encourage Palin voters to rank Begich second and Begich voters to rank Palin second. But it was not sufficient. 11,269 voters didn’t exercise their right to choose between Palin and Peltola. That is likely in part because Begich ran a very negative campaign against Palin, and both Republicans ran against the new system. For example, according to a conservative blogger, Suzanne Downing, “As Palin marked her ballot on the video she posted, she, too, only voted for herself and did not rank either Nick Begich or Mary Peltola. There was no ‘rank the red’ on her ballot.” It's the candidates and the campaigns they ran--not any system change--that most likely caused 11,000 Begich voters to choose not to participate in the final round rather than give their votes to Palin.


  • And even though Palin and Begich were both Republicans, too many Begich voters (almost one-third) preferred Democrat Peltola over Palin who has very high negatives in the state and against whom Begich ran very negative, and they gave their second choices to her instead of Palin.


  • Alaska is thought of as a red state, but the true diversity of Alaska has been obscured by the duopolistic political system. In fact, 63% of Alaskans don’t affiliate with either the R’s or the D’s. Only 24% are registered Republicans and 13% Democrats. As a percentage of its population, Alaska has fewer Republicans than California and fewer Democrats than Wyoming. In a functioning, free marketplace, Alaskans would regularly elect non-Republicans and non-Democrats. 

  • Don Young, AK’s Congressman for the last fifty years (whose death created this open seat race) was the 16th most bi-partisan Congressperson in the entire House according to the Lugar Center. It’s quite possible that’s why he kept winning—and that Alaskans simply don’t want the predominant divisive, national political style in their representatives. Let’s put it this way: I’m 100% confident that if Democrats had run a far-left blue state-type Democrat against a Don Young-like Republican, the seat would still be held by a Republican. And moderate uniter Mary Peltola would have had a much, much tougher race against a Don Young-Republican (I’d bet on the R in that race though that doesn’t mean I’m right.). Perhaps parties should realize that every state is different, and the more they let national politics dictate their candidates, the more handicapped they will be.

  • Not only is there an ebbing red wave evident, nationwide, it’s notable that Peltola’s win is the fifth straight over-performance for D’s in 2022 federal special elections compared to 2020 (with an average over-performance of 11 points).


  • Finally—Peltola ran as a Democrat, but more than that, she ran as a cross-partisan uniter and actively sought the votes of all Alaskans. And here’s the thing: There are only 77,009 Democrats in the whole state. Peltola received over 91,000 votes in a 32% turnout race (over 15,000 of whom we know chose Begich first), so it’s guaranteed that the majority of her voters are NOT Democrats. She will be paying attention to the desires of her entire coalition—including all those Republicans—when she governs if she wants to win again.

PS—In my view, both parties would benefit more from the existence of a few more willing, collaborative partners from across the aisle, than from electing a few more “our side is right about everything” reps of their own—but that’s a topic for another day.

Does this mean FFV somehow favors Democrats?



If I were a say-what-it-takes-to-win politician, I would be very tempted to say yes, because I’m rooting for Nevada Voters First to pass Final Five Voting in their “blue” state in Nov. But, it wouldn’t be true.

FFV favors general election voters. FFV ensures that winners are always chosen in general elections when most voters turn out, not by 10% of partisan voters in low-turnout summer primaries. And that voters have more candidates to choose from--no more "lesser-of-two-evils" elections.

That means (to paraphrase Alaskan leader, Scott Kendall, who founded, ran, and won Ballot Measure 2 for the new system in Alaska): FFV favors strong parties with good candidates who run good campaigns with policy positions that resonate with a majority of general election voters in the district/state. Nothing partisan about that. Whichever party gets their act together first and gives voters what they want (instead of what they’ve been forced to accept in the overly-regulated, duopolistic political marketplace), is going to do very well. That’s how free-markets work.


Want proof? The exact same voters who chose Mary Peltola for Congress delivered a distant 3rd place to the Democrat—and an overwhelming majority for the two Republicans—in the U.S. Senate primary on the same day. It wasn’t even close:

U.S. Senate Primary--Alaska


Lisa Murkowski (R)      45.0%


Kelly Tshibaka (R)       38.6%


Patricia Chesbro (D)     6.8%


Obviously Alaska voters really like these Republican Senate candidates. They simply liked the Republicans in the House race less and the Democrat a lot more—which I think we can agree is their prerogative in our Republic.


And you don’t need to take my word that FFV is not a trojan horse for Democrats. Many of them sure seem to agree: the three top Democrats in Nevada (i.e., the Governor and two Senators) have all come out in opposition to the Final Five Voting ballot initiative there—suggesting it would disadvantage minorities and be too complicated (interesting strategy essentially telling Nevada voters they’re not as smart as Alaska voters—and of course, the first Alaska Indigenous woman just won the first FFV race ever, so the early facts don’t support that FFV disadvantages minorities). And Nevada Democrats brought in Democratic powerhouse lawyer, Marc Elias to fight to keep FFV off the ballot. Fortunately they lost, and now Nevada voters will decide if they’d like to follow Alaska and eliminate “lesser of two evils” elections.

FFV makes November voters more powerful than anyone else in the political system. Some people with a lot of power in the existing system seem to object—on both sides.

Critics say FFV is too complicated for voters. How did it go in Alaska?

  • 85 percent of Alaskans said it was simple to fill out their ranked choice ballot, according to recent polling by Unite America. 95 percent said they received instructions on how to fill out their ranked choice ballot.
  • Only 340 ballots were "spoiled" because of voter error. That's 0.2%. It worked.
  • Voter turnout was 192,535, or 32.16%. This is the 3rd highest primary turnout in AK history. It's more than a third more votes than in 2020 (133,569).

It worked just fine.

Other Miscellaneous Questions

Why did Alaska even have this special House election?

Alaska’s sole representative to Congress, Rep. Don Young, passed away in March. Alaskan law requires a special election to fill the seat. The special election primary was June 11th, and the special election general was August 16th.


The special primary and the special general used the new Final Four Voting system—just like all state and federal elections in Alaska now do.

How does Final Four Voting work in Alaska?

It's simple.

1.        In the Primary:

There’s just one ballot with all candidates (not separate party primaries), and all voters can participate (not just party members). The top-four finishers advance to the general election. (Note: In the House race, one of the top four finishers dropped out after the primary, so the race was down to three.)

2.   In the General:

An instant-runoff narrows the field to the final two candidates—and majority wins. Think of it just like a series of runoffs, but instead of having to physically come back for another election, you cast all your votes at once using a ranked ballot.

Why did it take this long to get results in Alaska?

Alaska state law allows up to 15 days for mail-in ballots to be received after Election Day. This is how it has always worked in Alaska, to ensure voters from rural Alaska, military and overseas have their voices heard. This deferral of reporting is not a new development, as it happened under the old system. Now that all votes actually matter, it’s not as simple to predict in advance who is going to win.


Each state will likely be different in how quickly FFV general election results can be reported.

Will it take that long to get FFV results in other states?


In most other states, all ballots must be returned by Election Day (including absentee/mail-in ballots). So, unlike Alaska, there needn’t be a delay in results reporting.

What happens next in Alaska?

This was a special election to fill the remainder of Rep. Don Young’s term (through the end of 2022). As a result, Peltola will serve from now until the new Congress is sworn in in January 2023.

On November 8th, the regularly scheduled general election will determine who represents Alaska from January 3 on. That may or may not be Peltola. The general election will be an instant runoff rematch between the same three primary winners—Peltola, Palin, and Begich—plus Libertarian, Chris Bye, in the fourth spot. A lot could change, including that the Republicans may alter their campaign strategies, and Peltola will be judged on her performance between now and then.  

Late breaking (fewer than 12 hours after I wrote the above): Sarah Palin looks to be adjusting her strategy to meet Alaska voters where they’re at. She sent this tweet this morning:

How does this impact our work in other states?

Alaska is the first state to implement Final Five-style Voting—we call their system Final Four Voting. Having a real-life example of voters using the system and generally liking it (while the ballot measure passed with just over 50% support, after using it, 62% of voters report supporting it—and we expect that to grow over time as the benefits become clear) will help advance our case for Final Five Voting.  

But it’s also up to us to explain to our networks that this system isn’t a trojan horse for either party’s advantage—no matter how surprising the results of one election may be. 

*Why Final Four Voting (vs. Final Five Voting)?


In my 2017 work, I called for Final Four Voting. In 2020, I updated the work to recommend Final Five Voting.

Both electoral innovations include a combination of a single-ballot primary with an instant runoff general election. The only difference is the number of candidates who advance from the primary to the general election. Final Four advances a maximum of four--and Final Five a maximum of five. (I probably didn’t really need to say that, did I? 😊)

Final Five is optimal to provide enough as much room as possible for new and robust competition, while not expanding the field so much as to invite what’s called “voter exhaustion.” Ultimately, both approaches aim to serve the same outcome: healthy competition in elections to promote results and accountability in our politics. 

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