July 26, 2022

Alaska voters this year are using a new method to elect members of Congress that former President Donald Trump dismissed in remarks in Anchorage as “ranked choice crap voting.”

Trump has perpetuated dangerous falsehoods for years that elections are “rigged.” Now he says the use of ranked choice voting in Alaska is another part of rigged elections.

Ranked choice voting is a system by which voters rank candidates in order of preference, rather than choosing a single candidate. Election democracy experts say the system is not rigged; instead, it maximizes voter satisfaction by elevating the most widely supported candidates, rather than extreme candidates who are able to win races with large fields of candidates based on small bases of support.

Trump held a rally July 9 to promote Kelly Tshibaka, the state’s former Department of Administration commissioner, who is running against fellow Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

He offered this description of ranked choice during his speech:

“So-and-so had five votes for fifth place so we are going to give them the victory. It’s crazy, it’s crazy. And you know who got it put in? Lisa Murkowski got it put in. …She knew she could not win a straight-up election. So she went for crazy ranked choice. You never know who won in ranked choice. You could be in third place. They announced that you won the election. It’s a total rigged deal just like a lot of other things in this country.”

Trump is free to dislike ranked choice voting, and he isn’t its only critic. Some say ranked choice voting hasn’t lived up to its ideals, but supporters say it encourages candidates to appeal to a broad spectrum of voters and increases voter participation.

Either way, Trump is wrong to characterize ranked choice voting as a “rigged deal.” Ranked choice voting is a legal and secure way to hold elections — and it lets voters’ preferences drive the results.

Trump also said Murkowski “put” in ranked choice voting. That’s wrong, too — the voters put in ranked choice voting through a 2020 ballot referendum that passed with slightly more than 50% of the vote.

We emailed a Trump spokesperson to ask for his evidence and received no reply.

How ranked-choice voting will work for the U.S. Senate race in Alaska

In Alaska’s U.S. Senate primary Aug. 16, voters will each choose one candidate among more than one dozen. The top four vote-getters, no matter their party, will advance to the November election. Tshibaka and Murkowski are both expected to advance.

For the general election, voters will rank the candidates by their first, second, third and fourth choice. The lowest-finishing candidates are eliminated, with their voters’ second, third and fourth choices reallocated to those candidates’ totals. The candidate who wins 50% plus 1 vote, wins the election, going as many rounds as it takes.

Trump wrongly suggested that someone in fifth place could win. First, voters only rank four candidates. And while it’s theoretically possible, it’s highly unusual for a bottom-of-the-pack candidate in the first round to end up winning.

Of the 522 single-winner ranked choice voting races since 2004, the candidate with the most first-choice support has won 502 times, or 96% of the time, according to FairVote, an organization that supports ranked choice voting. Eighteen of those “come-from-behind” winners were in second place while two were in third place.

Ranked choice voting has been upheld by the courts and has been used around the country and the world, said Rob Richie, president of FairVote. It was used by Republicans to nominate now Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin in 2021. It has also been used statewide in Maine, in New York City and in cities in Utah.

How we know Alaska’s elections are not rigged

Alaska’s approval of ranked choice voting in 2020 “was widely and correctly seen as a very fair election,” said Glenn Daniel Wright, a political science professor at the University of Alaska Southeast.

Rigging an election would require multiple officials to agree to break the law across multiple jurisdictions, an impractical plot. Alaska’s structure of election administration includes multiple security measures, and those remain in place under ranked choice voting.

“Alaska has a long history of clean and professionally run elections and there’s no reason to suspect that’s changing now,” Wright said.

Election administration in Alaska is handled through the state Division of Elections, which sits inside Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer’s office.

And Alaska has several rules requiring bipartisan oversight of elections on the state, regional and local level. Citizens are appointed to the bipartisan State Review Board that tests election tabulation equipment prior to the certification of results. Similar bipartisan election boards exist on regional and precinct levels, and a board is involved in the review of absentee ballots.

Alaska uses other best practices for election security; it is a member of the Electronic Registration Information Center, a consortium that helps states share and update voter registration information, including death records.

Alaska also has a paper trail for every ballot cast that allows voters to verify that their ballot is accurate. Alaska’s elections are transparent and allow for poll watchers to be on-site throughout the voting process and the public and media can observe a review of absentee ballots.

Jason Grenn, executive director of Alaskans for Better Elections, which spearheaded the ranked choice voting referendum, said that in 2020, after recounts, the review boards found no examples of widespread fraud or intentional misconduct by election officials.

University of Alaska political scientist Jerry McBeath said there have been cases in which ballots were lost or not delivered on a timely basis to rural areas. But they weren’t intentionally diverted.

“Almost all questions of elections in Alaska pertain to logistic questions,” he said. “They don’t pertain to perceived corrupt election officials who are ditching ballots,” he said.

Murkowski didn’t personally ‘put’ in ranked choice voting

Despite Trump’s assertion that the incumbent senator was behind the new voting process,  Murkowski’s campaign said she didn’t take a position on the 2020 ballot referendum.

Some of the referendum’s organizers had ties to Murkowski, including Shea Siegert, who was formerly campaign manager for Alaskans for Better Elections and who now works for Murkowski’s campaign. Lawyer Scott Kendall, who served as campaign coordinator for Murkowski’s 2016 reelection campaign, litigated on the ballot measure campaign’s behalf.

But none of this means that Murkowski “put” in ranked choice voting, as Trump said.

Political observers said ranked choice voting should benefit Murkowski, and candidates like her, because as a moderate, she gets a lot of cross-partisan support from independents and Democrats. She would have a harder time winning the Republican nomination in a primary; in fact, in 2010, she lost the GOP nomination but returned to Congress after running as a write-in candidate.

“Her positions accord with moderate voters in Alaska,” said McBeath, including her support for abortion rights.

Trump’s remarks are “mostly hooey, in my view,” McBeath said.

Our ruling

Trump said ranked choice voting in Alaska is a “total rigged deal.”

Trump is free to dislike ranked choice voting, but his characterization is wrong. Ranked choice voting is a legal way to conduct elections, and the voters’ choices rule. Alaska has a history of secure and transparent elections run by bipartisan teams, and that structure doesn’t go away with ranked choice voting.

In 2020, Trump laid the groundwork for blaming his loss on a “stolen” and “rigged” election — statements we found ridiculous. He is using a similar approach here in his efforts to denounce a senator who supported his impeachment after the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol.

We rate this statement Pants on Fire.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources here and more of their fact checks here.

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Amy Sherman is a staff writer with PolitiFact based in South Florida. She was part of the team that launched PolitiFact Florida in 2010 and…
Amy Sherman

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