I posted before about my irritation with journalists who do not provide basic facts about elections, such as the date of the election they are discussing or the vote tallies after the event, instead giving us their commentary and conclusions. This failure was clearly apparent in the special election that was held on August 16 to complete the term for the single congressional seat in the state of Alaska vacated by the death of the incumbent. On August 31, Democrat Mary Peltola was declared to have won the election, defeating two Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich.
The election was notable in that Peltola becomes the first Native Alaskan to go to Congress and the reports dutifully reminded us of that fact. But there was another very interesting feature in the election. It was the first time that Alaska was using a combination of an open primary, in which all the candidates were pooled together on one ballot (with over 45 competing) with the top four going on to the general election, and then using ranked choice voting to decided the winner among those four, provided none of the four got more than 50% of the vote in the first round.
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.
Peltola did not get 50% in the first round and won only after the ranked choice system was implemented.
Clearly it would be of great interest (to me at least and I am sure to many others) to know the following facts: How many votes did each candidate get in the first round? And how did the second and third preferences of the candidates who came in third and lower split among the top two? This is of interest given that Palin and Begich (who came in second and third respectively in the first round) were both Republicans and how Begich voters split to give Peltola the win over Palin gives important information about the political leanings in that district leading up to the November election to fill the seat for the next congressional term, especially since this seat has been held for a long time by Republicans
And yet, the above article gives none of that information, not even the final totals of the top two candidates. I had to search through many news reports before I found the relevant data in different sources. This article at least gave the final tallies (raw votes and percentages) for Peltola (51.5%) and Palin (48.5%), though not the results of the first round. This article gave the results of the first round (Peltola 39.7% of the vote, Palin’s 30.9%, Begich 27.8%) but not the final results, which is a perplexing omission. This article gave the final raw vote totals as Peltola with 91,206 votes and Palin with 85,987.
Finally, I found this article that filled in the final piece of information, that Begich voters’ second choice went 36% for Peltola and 64% for Palin. So basically Republican voters split, with roughly one-third preferring a Democrat over Palin.
Palin was endorsed by Trump and in true Trump style, has been complaining about what she called the “new crazy, convoluted, confusing” system, suggesting that it is some kind of devious conspiracy to steal the election from her. and that she would have won under the previous system. But the fact is that Peltola would have won in a traditional system as well, since she won the plurality. If the parties had also held separate primaries, so that the election was a head-to-head match up between the candidates of each party, and if the voting preferences that we saw remained the same, then it would appear that Palin would have won the Republican primary and faced Peltola alone but still have lost. So basically she would have lost under the alternative systems as well.
Even if a candidate won a plurality in the first round and lost when the final tallies were made, they should not feel aggrieved since ranked choice voting is designed so that the candidate that people really dislike is not elected by a plurality simply because the first choice of many voters comes in third or worse. That system results in people having to vote for candidates they are not enthusiastic about for fear that the one they really like has no chance of winning.
I cannot believe that I am an outlier in wanting to know such details and so am surprised the even major mainstream news outlets don’t provide them.
Raging Bee says
At the very least, a reputable national paper like WaPo or NYT should have a reference, in the front-page election news, to “details on page A-27.”
Patrick Slattery says
They have ranked choice and still held a primary?
WTF? They really don’t get this do they?
Have a look at how the Irish papers cover election numbers:
Overall results: https://www.irishtimes.com/election2020/results-hub
For a single constituency: https://www.irishtimes.com/election2020/limerick-city
Click the `play` button to see the vote counting play out
Ireland has used proportional representation with single transferable vote since 1921
Mano Singham says
The WaPo and NYT may have had the details but they are behind paywalls so I do not know.
Does not whoever is in charge of running the election have a website with that information?
The Hugo science fiction awards have always been a form of ranked-choice voting (with changes several years ago to make it more difficult for a group of people to bloc vote by essentially concentrating the vote of anybody whose other choices got knocked out of the running). As people have characterized it, a ranked-choice voting system tends to favour, not the result that most voters would like the most, but the result that most voters dislike the least. It tends to select for broad support, even if tepid, rather than more polarizing figures.
I suspect that the poor reporting may simply be a lack of familiarity with the system. In Australia, as in Ireland, instant runoff & single transferable vote elections are commonplace, and have been for some time in Australia (since 1919 for the lower house and since 1949 for the senate).
There’s usually a lot of Australian media coverage about expected flows of preferences in elections, and if anyone is interested in the fine detail, the Australian Electoral Commission (the independent federal body charged with managing the electoral rolls, electorate boundaries, and the running of elections) publishes full rundowns of exactly what the preference flows were, if anyone is interested enough to read them.
Polling for the lower house is reported as two sets of values, the primary vote (who gets how many first preference votes), and the two-party preferred results, the expected result after consideration of preferences.
I’m not sure why Patrick Slattery is puzzled about them still holding primaries when ranked choice voting is used. Certainly in Australia, the rough equivalent of primaries are held (called preselection) where the parties decide who their candidates will be. The main difference is that in Australia preselection is carried out by members of the party, rather than by registered party voters (that concept really doesn’t exist here).
I’d echo what prl wrote, the fact that you had to go to four different places to get the details you wanted suggests that the reporters and news outlets are still trying to figure out how to report ranked-choice voting.
Of course, they could use lessons learned by other countries who use ranked-choice voting but [cue patriotic music] American Exceptionalism!
Raging Bee says
I suspect that the poor reporting may simply be a lack of familiarity with the system.
That’s not much of an excuse, given that the system didn’t just get announced the day before the actual voting. Someone, somewhere, had to come up with a good description of how the system would work before the proposal was accepted, and then after it became law there would have been plenty of time, and incentive, for people to study and report on this new thing that had just been created. Didn’t anyone in either party at least send pamphlets to their voters saying “This is how our voting system works, here’s what you need to know when you cast your vote”?
Patrick Slattery says
> I’m not sure why Patrick Slattery is puzzled about them still holding primaries when ranked choice voting is used. Certainly in Australia, the rough equivalent of primaries are held (called preselection) where the parties decide who their candidates will be. The main difference is that in Australia preselection is carried out by members of the party, rather than by registered party voters (that concept really doesn’t exist here).
While the process is largely the same in Ireland as in Australia, the process I saw being followed in Alaska required a public primary. The long and short of it is with STV/RCV you don’t need a primary at all. Just put them all in one big ballot and have at it. You can have rules such as a $500 non-refundable payment to stop all of the nutters from signing up…
Australia already has a deposit for candidates in elections (AUD2000, or ~USD1300), but it’s refunded if they get more than 4% of the first preference vote. There still seem to be plenty of candidates putting themselves forward who have no reasonable expectation of getting their deposit back.