The Alaska Supreme Court ruled on Friday that a candidate running in last year’s special U.S. House election was improperly removed from the ballot by the state’s elections department.
In a 30-page opinion, Alaska’s highest court ruled that the Alaska Division of Elections failed to adhere to state law when it removed Independent candidate Al Gross from the ballot during last year’s special election for the state’s at-large congressional district. Gross, who finished third among 48 candidates in the race’s June primary, dropped out ahead of the special and general elections.
During the 2020 election, Alaska voters narrowly adopted Ballot Measure 2, which replaced the state’s traditional election system with a top-four, ranked-choice voting (RCV) one. Under RCV, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes in the first round of voting, the last-place finisher is eliminated, and his votes are reallocated to the voter’s second-choice candidate. This process continues until one candidate receives a majority of votes.
In Alaska, all candidates run in a nonpartisan, open primary, wherein the top-four vote-getters advance to the general. RCV is used in both the primary and general elections.
While candidates are permitted to withdraw ahead of general elections, the candidate’s “replacement on or removal from the ballot is subject to statutory and regulatory restrictions,” according to the Alaska Supreme Court. Under state law, a candidate seeking to withdraw from an election must do so at least 64 days before the general in order to be removed from the ballot. Gross withdrew 57 days before the election, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
Since Gross did not withdraw within the 64-day window, his name should have appeared on the ballot for the August special election. The Alaska Division of Elections, however, removed Gross, meaning only three candidates appeared on the ballot for the contest. According to the Alaska Supreme Court, “Had the Division strictly followed the law, Dr. Gross’s name should have remained on the special general election ballot.”
Upon exiting the 2022 House race, Gross appeared to believe that his withdrawal would have allowed Republican Tara Sweeney, who finished fifth in the primary, to take his place in the special and general elections. Democrat Mary Peltola, who finished fourth, would go on to win the special and general elections. It’s worth mentioning that upon his departure from the race, Gross encouraged his supporters to vote for either Sweeney or Peltola.
While it remains uncertain how Gross’s inclusion on the ballot would have impacted the outcome of the special election, the incident demonstrates the confusing impact RCV has on election administration. As The Federalist previously reported, RCV often leads to confusing and even inaccurate election outcomes. In an Oakland school board race, for instance, “election officials announced — two months after the fact — that they got the count wrong,” resulting in the “rightful winner … suing for his seat.”
Some studies suggest RCV disenfranchises demographics of voters that left-wing election groups frequently argue are marginalized, such as nonwhite people and non-English speakers.
Further, elections conducted under a ranked-choice voting system often produce outcomes contradicting voters’ desires. Despite Peltola’s August victory “nearly 60 percent of voters [cast] their ballots for a Republican.” RCV also played a major role in helping Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski fend off a challenge from Trump-backed Kelly Tshibaka during the 2022 midterms. The system allowed Murkowski to win due to being listed second on the ranked-choice ballots of Alaskan Democrats.
In response to this, Alaskan conservatives have launched a grassroots campaign to repeal ranked-choice voting ahead of the 2024 elections, and Republicans in the Alaska Legislature introduced measures in the 2023 legislative session seeking to repeal RCV.