OPINION: The future of Alaska elections begins now

Having more choices is always good. Whether you’re at a restaurant, the used car lot, scrolling Netflix or reviewing what’s on tap at your local brewery, having more options empowers us to find what we want and what fits our needs. Alaska’s new election system now faces an early test in providing us with those choices.

Before a single vote has been cast, Alaskans are already seeing the benefits of this system in the race to determine who will succeed Congressman Don Young and serve out the balance of his term. Alaskans who wanted more say in who represents us chose, in part, to enact open primaries where all voters can have a say in electing our leaders.

Open primaries are good for democracy. They encourage every citizen to participate in our elections. We now have dozens of candidates to select from, representing a broad spectrum of party ideologies, and coming from every corner of our state. We have Republicans, Democrats, nonpartisans, Libertarian Party members, and everything in between. We have young candidates and seasoned candidates, as old as 89 years of age. We have candidates from Utqiaġvik and from Bethel, from Fairbanks and from Eagle River — as well as multiple Alaska Native candidates. The breadth of choices on this primary ballot looks like Alaska.

Under Alaska’s old election system, the elites of each political party would go into their proverbial smoke-filled rooms and hand-pick a nominee to replace Congressman Young. That method of selection would be largely hidden from public scrutiny or input, and the choices presented to the rest of us would necessarily be fewer and more partisan.

Fortunately, Alaskans chose to change this system. And because it’s an open primary, every single candidate will appear on the same ballot, and for the first time every single voter will be eligible to vote for any candidate they choose regardless of their — or the candidates’ — political affiliation. Alaska’s primary elections will treat each voter equally — which is a perfect recipe to elect a public servant, rather than a party servant.

After all, we are more Alaskan than we are Republican or Democrat. We are neighbors before we are partisans. And national politics hold less sway here than they do elsewhere. As the late Sen. Ted Stevens said, and many have repeated, “to hell with politics, just do what’s right for Alaska.” And what’s right for Alaska is for all of us, not a partisan few, to have a say in selecting Congressman Young’s successor.

The Alaska Division of Elections and Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer deserve high praise for how quickly and transparently they’ve adapted to these unanticipated events and have planned Alaska’s first “vote at home” statewide election for this primary. They also need our trust and support. They are quickly employing best practices, such as mailing a ballot to every registered voter and pre-paying the return postage. They are ensuring that every Alaskan will have an equal opportunity to participate.


Although this special election is new and unexpected, the process is straightforward. At the end of this month, Alaska registered voters will begin receiving their special primary ballots in the mail. For that reason, it’s important to update your address with the Division of Elections. When you get your ballot, every one of the dozens of candidates running will be on it. Your task as a voter will be simple: Choose your one favorite candidate and vote for them. Choose only one, and make sure to mail your ballot back, postmarked no later than June 11. The top four vote-getters will move on to the special general election in August, which will be conducted with ranked choice voting. Whether or not your personal favorite qualifies for the top four, there is certain to be a spectrum of choices with something to offer every Alaska voter.

In this new system every candidate is now competing for every vote. Rather than just target their base, or the members of one party, candidates will have to engage in the free market of ideas and try to reach every Alaskan. The winner’s reward will be the ability to vote their conscience — and Alaska’s best interests — rather than the party line. What better tribute could there be to Congressman Young’s legacy than replacing him with a representative who puts Alaska first. Always.

Scott Kendall is an attorney in private practice who lives in Anchorage with his wife, Selena, and their two children. He regularly works in public policy, campaigns and elections. He was also the author of Ballot Measure 2, the “Better Elections Initiative,” and defended the measure in court.

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Scott Kendall

Scott Kendall served as chief of staff under Gov. Bill Walker. He is now an attorney in private practice.