“I voted” stickers await voters on Election Day 2022. That election was the first regular general election in Alaska to include ranked choice voting, which was narrowly approved by voters in 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire file photo)

“I voted” stickers await voters on Election Day 2022. That election was the first regular general election in Alaska to include ranked choice voting, which was narrowly approved by voters in 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire file photo)

My Turn: Not a failed election

A recent article in the Empire for Dec. 6 was titled “Failed election shows why Alaska should repeal ranked-choice voting.”

The article’s example from Alameda County elections in 2022 does not fit Alaska. Across the bay from San Francisco, Alameda County employs ranked-choice voting for all elective offices (including school board members, judges, mayors) while in Alaska, ranked-choice voting is limited to U.S. president/vice president, senators and representatives; governor/lieutenant governor; and all state representatives and senators.

Tallies for these elections are administered by the Alaska Division of Elections, whereas in the Alameda election of 2022 management was overseen by a registrar in Oakland, the county seat. He made a program error that affected one election.

An overview of the 2022 Alameda County elections puts the error into perspective. The ranked-choice elections were for over 50 offices among 1.6 million people (over twice the population of Alaska), and in all those elections, the error affected one contest in one of 14 cities. After election data was released, FairVote, an independent, nonpartisan group (which promotes ranked-choice voting as a reliable voting choice) saw the error, notified the county and the outcome was corrected.

Data for that election were not immediately made public, so it took a while for the error to be detected. In Alaska, after the 2022 ranked-choice elections were processed, one could watch and listen to vote tallies for each office and shifts in candidates as required by the people’s ballot-initiated law. In Alaska transparency of process and outcomes is a feature of elections. As a result of the error in Alameda County, oversight, transparency and timely release of data have become priorities.

The “failed election” opinion piece explained the effects of the error in the one race in such a way as to make it seem more complicated than it was. The program error was made by one person, not by complication. The article also faults voters by claiming instructions are too hard to understand. Neither complication nor voters caused the error. One person’s mistake did.

The article claims that ranked-choice voting “pushes elections into a technological black box where mistakes can go undetected.” This claim is meritless in most places, but is particularly without merit in Alaska. Here, all elections are accomplished by paper ballot, and all ballots are preserved. All close elections go to an automatic recount, and any candidate may request one. A recount is bound to expose a process error.

The article does not cite one example of an undetected error in ranked-choice elections. (“Rank the Vote” reports 425 of them across the country in 28 states since 2004.) The authors, England and Snead, according to their many articles online, continually look for undetected error in ranked-choice voting, but in their just-published book of 48 pages on the subject, none is cited — at least so is presumed because the adapted article cites none.

The “failed election” article drew me in because I wondered how it could be adapted and published in December from a “forthcoming book” when the book had already been published on Nov. 14 of this year. Then closer attention to the example revealed that it does not show a failed election at all. The 2022 Alameda ranked-choice elections with its 496,125 votes in 14 cities for dozens of candidates shows no failure, only one man’s computing error affecting one race, an error that was found and corrected. Now such an error is guarded against by oversight, something Alaska has in abundance.

The article contends that the error in the example could infect the entire body politic, but what the example shows is that the corrected error has helped to inoculate the body politic against this kind of infection, a bug for which Alaska has a strong immunity.

• Art Petersen is a 49-year resident of Juneau and a retired professor of English from the University of Alaska Southeast.

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