EDITORIAL: Is failed candidates’ rhetoric fooling anyone?

A few days ago, defeated U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka added her voice — and a new ranked choice voting repeal effort — to that of defeated U.S. House candidate Sarah Palin. Having been humbled by the electorate in the first elections conducted under Alaska’s new voter-approved system, the two candidates are both convinced that the problem isn’t them but ranked choice voting itself.

If nothing else, they’re consistent. Both Tshibaka and Palin ran expensive campaigns pandering to a base that was never broad enough to win a one-on-one race, much less one with multiple candidates where voters got to rank second, third and fourth choices. They never bothered to make earnest appeals to voters for whom they might not be the first pick, choosing instead to employ scorched-earth attacks not just on the Democrats in their respective races, but also on the other Republicans in the race whose supporters’ votes they needed to ultimately prevail. Unsurprisingly, this was not a winning strategy, and both lost in the general election by margins that weren’t especially close.

Now, less than three months later, the two failed candidates are back attempting to get revenge on the system they feel has wronged them, and thus must be wrong for Alaska. Ranked choice is confusing, they say, and it doesn’t reflect what Alaskans actually want. In crusading against it, they seek to return to our old voting system, where political parties and their extreme fringe chose the candidates in the primary that the rest of Alaska got to choose between in the general election. They would have us believe it’s just a coincidence that the system they want to go back to benefited candidates exactly like them. This is covert narcissism disguised as altruism, of course, and Alaskans shouldn’t fall for it.

The fact is, ranked choice voting worked well, and even at first blush, Alaskans didn’t find it difficult to navigate. An exit poll conducted by Patinkin Research immediately after voters cast their ballots found that nearly 80% described the ranked choice voting process as very simple (59%) or somewhat simple (20%). The same survey found nearly 60% of Alaskans viewed the 2022 elections as being more competitive than elections under the old system, with only 17% saying they were less competitive.

And the ranked choice system’s positives — open primaries that let voters choose between all of the candidates, no need for voters to hold their noses and vote for the “lesser evil” as a first choice because of worries about splitting the ticket — were on full display. The result? A slate of representatives who look more like the people who elected them than has been the case in past years. And contrary to detractors’ rhetoric, the system was clearly no scheme to elect Democrats. Both majority caucuses in the Alaska Legislature are led by Republicans, as is the governor’s office. And thanks to ranked choice allowing voters to support candidates who value getting work done over purity tests, both the House and Senate got organized more quickly and securely than last session’s fiasco that wasted weeks of precious time and bred dysfunction in both bodies.

None of this matters to Palin, Tshibaka and the variety of aligned Outside think tanks and interest groups that will attempt to spend their way to a repeal of ranked choice voting. They want to see elections return to political party control, and they want to get as much face time as possible while doing it, to keep their names in the national political conversation and themselves on the cable TV political talk circuit. For career politicians like them, attention is currency, and they want to keep their names in the mix for a future run — for House, for Senate, for governor. Palin and Tshibaka failed their proverbial tests at the ballot box, and instead of studying harder to be better students, they want to change how the test is graded to ensure they receive an A next time.

And they’re perfectly willing to throw Alaska’s new voting system under the bus in the name of that personal ambition. Don’t be fooled. Let’s keep ranked choice voting and ditch the political opportunists instead.

Anchorage Daily News editorial board

Editorial opinions are by the editorial board, which welcomes responses from readers. Board members are ADN President Ryan Binkley, Publisher Andy Pennington and Opinion Editor Tom Hewitt. The board operates independently from the ADN newsroom. To submit feedback, a letter or longer commentary for consideration, email commentary@adn.com.