- Sarah Palin came all the way to CPAC in Maryland to speak out against ranked-choice voting.
- The system lets voters rank multiple candidates and is designed to ensure that winners have majority support.
- But Alaska elected a Democrat in part due to the system, and now conservatives want to get rid of it.
NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — Among the far-right conservative influencers, politicians, and personalities at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this year was former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the one-time Republican vice-presidential candidate who recently lost a House race to Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola.
Palin, despite her lasting impact on American politics, did not have a formal speaking slot at the conference.
But she could be seen wandering the halls on Thursday, pausing for selfies and taking time to speak at media booths set up along the sides of the main conference hall.
As it turned out, Palin had traveled all the way to the conference to help promote a nascent effort in Alaska to repeal the state’s ranked-choice voting system, which was first used for federal elections last year.
Art Mathias, the leader of a group called “Alaskans for Honest Elections,” told Insider at CPAC that Palin “would have easily won” her election had the system not been implemented. Palin, he said, serves as the group’s national spokesperson.
Alaskans for Honest Elections is seeking to undo the new system, and must gather tens of thousands of signatures across the state to put the ballot measure before Alaska’s electorate.
So then what’s Mathias doing at CPAC, thousands of miles from Alaska?
“Raising money, making contacts, letting people know,” said Mathias. “Alaska is the epicenter for this. If we kill it in Alaska, we kill it in America.”
—Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) September 1, 2022
‘We need our parties’
Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank multiple candidates for office, creating a system in which voters can choose not just their first choice for the job, but several other candidates who they’d like to see win.
After the initial results come in, candidates who received the lowest number of votes are sequentially eliminated and their votes are redistributed to other candidates based on voters’ rankings. This continues until a candidate exceeds 50% of the vote.
Proponents argue that the system leads to less divisive elections — owing to the imperative to seek second, third, and fourth votes among other candidates’ supporters — and ensures that the winner of the election has the support of the majority of the electorate.
In theory, the system doesn’t necessarily favor one party over the other.
But in practice, Republicans have seen their chances thwarted by ranked-choice voting systems in both Alaska and Maine, spurring opposition.
Mathias characterized the system as an effort backed by out-of-state interests and allies of Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has historically angered the Republican base, in order to avoid the “healthy” process of party primaries.
“We need our parties to vet candidates so we know who they really are,” said Mathias.
Mathias also flipped proponents’ argument on its head, arguing that ranked-choice voting actually increases divisiveness. He cited infighting between the two Republican candidates — Palin and fellow GOP candidate Nick Begich — that allowed Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola to prevail in both the special election in August and the general election in November.
Conservatives in Washington have begun mobilizing against ranked-choice voting as well, with Republicans in Congress criticizing the system.
As recently as January, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy trashed the system during a podcast appearance with Donald Trump Jr.
“Someone could get the most votes, and not win!” said McCarthy. “So if you come in 3rd, you win. What? ‘I got a lot of second votes, I got a lot of 3rd vote — what does that mean?'”
At CPAC, just steps away from Alaskans for Honest Elections’ booth, another group opposed to ranked-choice voting, “StopRCV.com” had set up its own table — complete with sunglasses, stickers, stress balls, and literature to hand out to curious CPAC attendees.
Backed by Heritage Action and Save our States — a group dedicated to defending the legitimacy of the Electoral College — StopRCV is an effort to educate conservatives about the “dangers” of ranked-choice voting.
In arguing against the system, both StopRCV and Alaskans for Honest Elections have focused on the supposed complexity of ranked-choice voting — along with the fact that voters who don’t rank every candidate are at risk of having their ballots disregarded if the few candidates they rank are eliminated.
“That’s not a democracy. That’s not how a republic should work, is throwing your ballot in the trash,” said Lindsey McSparrin, a volunteer with StopRCV.