A progressive’s guide to the AK special RCV general

Progressives are weighing whether or not to rank a Republican second during the ranked-choice general.

It’s official: the special ranked choice general election to fill Don Young’s term will feature three candidates rather than four.

On Saturday, June 25th, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling deciding that Tara Sweeney would not be bumped into the 4th place slot.

The lawsuit responds to the withdrawal independent candidate Al Gross, who unexpectedly withdrew from the general after safely placing 3rd in the June 16th primary.

That leaves Sarah Palin (R), Nick Begich (R), and Mary Peltola (D) on the general ballot. Voters will be able to rank the three in order of their preference for them. With Gross out of the race, progressives are weighing whether to rank Palin or Begich 2nd — or either of them at all.

Some have even asked if there’s an element of strategy involved.

In my view, strategic voting during the RCV general is a futile and a risky bet. Without Al Gross or a Republican who shares some voters with Peltola (like Sweeney did), there is no need to consider strategy or game theory. Whether you vote Palin/Begich as 2nd is all about insurance — a choice between the lesser of two evils assuming Peltola doesn’t make the 2nd round of RCV.

Below is analysis on how to vote in two different scenarios. The first assumes Peltola does very well in the 1st round of voting, causing one Republican to be eliminated and creating a D vs R runoff (Peltola vs Palin OR Begich). The second scenario assumes Peltola places third and gets eliminated immediately (Palin vs Begich runoff).

Peltola is likely to place 1st/2nd during the 1st round of RCV

The debate on which conservative to rank 2nd is based on the premise that Peltola will place 3rd and be the first candidate to be eliminated from the race. Should she get eliminated first, it would leave a 2-way competition between Palin and Begich. From there, it makes sense that we’d rank whoever we dislike the least and thus prefer to send to D.C.

But a 2 vs 1 race where conservatives are splitting the vote against a sole Democrat is actually likely to put either Begich or Palin in third place.

Progressive and liberal voters tend to make up about 40-45% of the votes in a general election. Republicans normally take 55-60% of the vote. However, with two Republicans running, it will be very hard for either to beat Peltola’s 40-45% alone. Mathematically, it would require a complete blowout between Palin and Begich in which one of them receives just 10-15% of the vote. That is incredibly unlikely.

Even if Palin or Begich manage to beat Peltola’s likely threshold, its highly unlikely BOTH Republican candidates beat Peltola. That means that at least one Republican is going to get eliminated from the 1st round of voting. If that’s the case, it really doesn’t matter if you choose to rank another Republican 2nd — there won’t be a scenario where your votes get redistributed to another Republican anyways.

For example, let’s play out an RCV scenario under the assumption Peltola takes first place:

1st round of voting:
Begich gets eliminated due to getting fewest votes
2nd round of voting:
6% of Begich voters don’t rank either Palin or Peltola as their 2nd choice; 17% rank Palin 2nd and Begich’s votes transfer to her; 2% rank Peltola 2nd and those votes transfer to her

Here’s the takeaway: the final round will likely be (D) vs (R), meaning your 2nd choice vote will never get redistributed to another candidate.

If Peltola doesn’t make the 2nd round of RCV…

Let’s imagine my prediction that Peltola performs very well during the 1st round is incorrect. Perhaps Palin/Begich will do so well they earn the 1st place votes of many independents who sometimes vote Democratic but are unhappy with Biden and want a Republican to win this time. Perhaps Democrat’s stay home while Republicans turn out in droves and Peltola’s vote share dips below 35%. I think all of this is unlikely, but let’s say it happens.

In that case, you might want to rank a Republican 2nd. Assuming it will be a Palin vs Begich runoff once Peltola gets eliminated, we should at least have a say in which Republican will represent our state.

Luckily, there is no electoral downside to ranking Palin or Begich 2nd. Perhaps you can argue that since your vote will go towards a Republican it will count towards their final number of votes, which could give the appearance of conservative legitimacy to the winner. I don’t think this carries a tangible harm since we’ll know how many voters preferred a Democrat from the beginning.

Personally, I’ll be ranking Peltola 1st and Begich 2nd. I’m pretty certain Peltola will not get eliminated in the 1st round of voting, but if there’s no harm in a backup vote should I get things wrong (again), why not?