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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Alaska’s New Electoral System: Countering Polarization or “Crooked as Hell”?


In November 2020, Alaska introduced a new electoral system, combining a “top four” all-party primary with ranked choice voting (RCV) general elections. Supporters of this reform claimed it would reduce the partisan polarization and minority victories generated by closed primaries and plurality elections. But critics suggest that it could make polarization worse by weakening political parties—an important check on political extremism. These are high-stakes issues that go well beyond Alaska, given the problem of political polarization and the search for institutional reforms in America today. Placing the Alaskan reforms in this broader national context, this paper presents an initial assessment of Alaska’s new system at the 2022 primary and mid-term elections. We find the reform was both consequential and largely beneficial, promoting greater choice for voters, more accommodative campaigning, and generally more moderate outcomes than likely under the old rules.

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