By Ben Williams
Tuesday’s primary wasn’t Wyoming’s first rodeo. But it (nearly) was for Alaska.
The Last Frontier and Equality State primaries were the only shows in town this week, a relatively small number in a month otherwise chock full of action.
And while the national media’s main story was on U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney losing her primary, NCSL followed the races for the nation’s newest three legislative seats. Wyoming’s redistricting added two new representatives and one new senator, bringing the number of legislators nationwide next year up to 7,386.
Folks tracking election administration will be closely watching several things in Alaska: the first primary to use the state’s new top-four system; a special election for the state’s lone congressional seat, vacant since the passing of Rep. Don Young earlier this year; and the race for U.S. Senate, where incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski is running for re-election.
Since Alaska is the first state to use this election system, here’s a brief overview of how it works: Rather than candidates running in individual primaries, all candidates for a particular office run in a single primary. The top four vote-getters in that primary, regardless of party, advance to the general election. In the general election, ranked choice voting (aka “instant runoff”) will be used to select the winner.
Because Alaska’s rules prohibit the first round of the “runoff” from being counted until weeks later we don’t expect results in the special election yet—though the fact that there will only be three candidates due to one of the four candidates withdrawing may shorten the total tabulation time.
As of publication we already have a good idea of who will advance to the general election in all the other races, including Murkowski’s, where and Democrat Pat Chesboro seemed likely to advance to November's general election.
Just know that in November, if control of Congress or the Senate hangs in the balance, it may take time for Alaska to tell us which party will be in power in Washington.
Ben Williams is a program principal in NCSL's Elections and Redistricting Program.