“Round robin” versus “instant runoff”

As Rick Pildes observed a few days ago, Alaska’s at-large House seat may show the significance of using different versions of ranked-choice voting. Now that we have some preliminary returns in both the special election and the first round of the regular election, this point is even more salient. As the New York Times is showing this morning, Sarah Palin is in second place in both the special and regular election: 32% and 31% respectively. Nick Begich is in third place in both: 29% and 27%.

In the context of ranked-choice voting, which applies to the current special election results (and will apply again in November to the general election), the instant runoff method of identifying a winner eliminates Begich and redistributes the ballots that ranked him first to whichever other candidate is ranked second on those ballots. It’s possible that Palin will pick up enough of these second-choice votes to win the election.

By contrast, the round-robin method would examine how each of the ballots rank each pair of candidates: Palin versus Begich, Palin versus Peltola (the Democrat and the plurality winner with 38% and 35% in the special and regular elections, respectively), and Begich versus Peltola. Depending on how both Palin and Peltola supporters exercise their option of indicating a second-choice preference on their ranked-choice ballots, it’s possible that Begich could win the round-robin even though Palin would win the instant-runoff. One can imagine Democrats preferring Begich to Palin, and likewise for Palin voters to prefer Begich to Peltola, and in this type of situation Begich could prevail over either other candidate in the round-robin analysis.

We will need to see the complete rankings on the Alaska ballots in order to know whether or not this hypothesis holds up. Obviously, we will be on the lookout for the availability of that evidence. In the meantime, it’s worth flagging that this issue continues to be one to keep a close eye on.

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