The NCSL Blog


By Brian Hinkle

Election results might be old news in most states, but in Alaska, it’s still breaking news.

Election officials scanned ballots during absentee partial counts at the Division of Elections Region II office in Anchorage on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN) Two weeks after Election Day, Alaska Ballot Measure 2 was finally called—Alaskans approved the measure with just over 50% of the vote. Measure 2 will make substantial changes to Alaska’s elections, implementing a first-of-its-kind primary system, ranked-choice voting and new campaign finance requirements.

Measure 2’s most significant change is the replacement of Alaska’s partisan primary with a “top-four” primary system.

Under this new system, all candidates will run in the same primary election, regardless of party affiliation. The four candidates who receive the most votes will then advance to the general election. California and Washington use top-two primary systems, but Alaska will be the first state with a top-four approach.

The initiative’s second notable change—and the one that’s gotten the most press—is the implementation of a ranked-choice voting system for the general election. This will apply to both state and federal candidates.

Ranked-choice voting gives voters the option to rank their preferred candidates. In Alaska’s case, that means choosing between the top four candidates who advanced from the primary.

If no candidate receives a simple majority (50% plus 1), the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and voters who ranked that candidate first have their votes redistributed to their second choice. This process continues until a candidate receives a simple majority. Alaska will become the second state to use statewide ranked-choice voting, joining Maine, which did so for the first time in 2018.

Finally, Measure 2 establishes a new campaign finance structure that will require additional disclosure from candidate campaigns and independent expenditure groups on contributions over $2,000.

These provisions are intended to slow the influx of so-called “dark money” into campaigns in Alaska. The measure will also require political groups that receive more than 50% of their money from out of state to provide a disclaimer on any communications.

With a new primary system, ranked-choice voting and additional campaign finance requirements, Measure 2 represents one of the most substantial changes to a state election system in recent memory.

Alaskans will see a considerably altered election landscape for the next statewide election, and NCSL will be here to answer any questions you might have on these or other election policies in the Last Frontier.

Brian Hinkle is a research analyst in NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.