Alaska’s ‘Final Four’ voting can be a model for the nation

Voters are divided by party affiliation at tables prior to voting.
AP Photo/Jessica Hill
A voter checks in at Suffield Middle School on primary election day, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, in Suffield, Conn. Suffield is one of several small towns in Connecticut where control was flipped from Democrats to Republicans in 2021 municipal races.

Regardless of the outcome of this week’s special election, Alaskans are demonstrating to Americans that there’s a better way to elect our leaders — one that encourages politicians to appeal to all citizens, not just the party faithful.     

Tomorrow, Alaskans will use ranked choice voting (also referred to as “instant run-off) to select the person to complete the term of the late Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska). This special election is the first time Alaskans will use “Final Four voting” — an election innovation that replaces party primaries with an open primary and uses ranked-choice voting in the general election.   

One fact is undeniable: At the moment, our democracy is not working. Political discourse is characterized by extreme polarization, nearly unprecedented incivility and legislative dysfunction. However, these are not bugs in our current political system, but rather features working exactly as designed. The incentives built into the system (gerrymandered districts, closed primaries and winner-take-all voting) perpetuate extreme polarization. Those we elect are not rewarded for working cooperatively across party lines to solve our nation’s problems. Rather, consensus builders are more often punished and defeated in their next party primary for not being partisan enough. It’s a structural design problem.    

Final Four voting is designed to change those incentives. With the top four vote-getters in the primary advancing to the general election, it rewards those who work cooperatively, reach out across party lines and appeal to the vast moderate middle of the political spectrum. And, according to researchers on the ground in Alaska, it’s achieving exactly that goal.  

Sightline Institute’s recent report, “In Alaska’s Special Election, A Bipartisan Mindset Makes Sense” noted: “Candidates are making subtle appeals to voters from the opposite party and avoiding attacks across party lines, at least so far…” and “Alaska’s U.S. House special election shows that, at least in some cases, ranked-choice voting can encourage voters and candidates to reach out to the opposite party.” 

In contrast to the “Wall Street Journal’s” recent characterization of the new system as making “a joke of Alaska politics,” we applaud the voters of Alaska for embracing a voting method that is reintroducing reasonableness into the election process. No matter who wins, Final Four voting is a better system that encourages collaboration among elected officials rather than the divisive politics we’ve all come to hate.  

Even before the election, the new incentive system was having an impact. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (Alaska) work in the last two years to forge bipartisan compromises on key legislation — from voting rights to infrastructure — is likely attributable to her freedom from a partisan primary. It’s interesting to note that two of the other leaders working across the political aisle with her in such efforts are often Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Independent Sen. Angus King, both of Maine — the only other state which also uses ranked-choice voting in its federal elections.    

Critics have argued that the new system is confusing. Yes, there’s been a lot to confound voters this year. The withdrawal of one of the top four candidates in the special election in Alaska has created some issues as the Final Four is now the Final Three. And the combination of tomorrow’s ballot having both the special “general” election and the primary for the same seat is a bit confusing. But the system is new, and we have faith in the ability of Alaska’s voters to sift through the noise and rank their preferences — just as our military personnel and overseas voters have been doing in at least five states for many years. We would also hope that critics are not suggesting that Alaskans are not as capable as the citizens of Maine, who have successfully used ranked-choice voting since 2018.    

We represent a group of business leaders dedicated to making our democracy work better. As Republicans, Democrats and Independents, we are Americans first, committed to nonpartisan efforts to make our democracy function to produce solutions that are in the common interest. We applaud Alaska’s citizens for approving the innovative ballot initiative that created Alaska’s Final Four voting system. We salute Alaskans for boldly deciding to change their election system.

While change is often difficult, it’s worth the effort.  We all deserve a system that incentivizes our elected officials to work cooperatively to address our nation’s pressing issues. We all deserve a democracy that works. 

Neal Simon is the former CEO of the financial advising firm Bronfman Rothschild. Todd Dipaola is the CEO of the marketing firm InMarket. They represent a coalition of business owners who are in support of ranked-choice voting systems.

Tags Don Young Instant-runoff voting in the United States Politics of the United States Ranked-choice voting in the United States Voting in the United States

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