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Political Reform Scores its Biggest Win Yet | Three Things Thursday

Ranked choice voting and nonpartisan primaries is a big win for political reformers. Plus, primary challengers are wreaking havoc and why ranked choice voting is useful. Three Things Thursday is Unite America's weekly newsletter.

Brett Maney
Sr. Communications Manager
January 28, 2021

We’ve made it: the last week of January. 

January has felt long  -- and a lot has already happened. Fortunately, a long January has given us lots of time to plan for the year ahead. We have new reports, new videos, and new campaigns we’re tracking.

But more on that later…

Here are three things to think about this week:

  1. Putting the pieces together

You might have heard us talk about Alaska’s Final-Four election system that passed via ballot iniative this last November. We were supportive of the driving campaign behind the ballot measure, Alaskans for Better Elections, and were thrilled that Alaskans would be leading the nation in changing the incentives for elected leaders. And now it seems, the rest of the nation is noticing. 

The Political-Reform Movement Scores Its Biggest Win Yet” writes Russell Berman of The Atlantic this week. Through the tireless efforts grassroots organizers across Alaska, and bolstered by support from the Unite America network of political philanthropists, Alaskans succeeded in carving a new future, not only for themselves, but for the nation as a whole. Instead of elected officials looking over their shoulders for primary challengers, thanks to the system of Final-Four voting (which combines nonpartisan primaries with a ranked choice voting general) Alaskan leaders are now pushed to represent all Alaska voters, not just primary election voters. The impact has been immediate. As Berman writes, "[Republican Senator Lisa] Murkowski was the first GOP senator to demand Trump’s exit after the deadly riot... Alaskans effectively gave their long-serving senator a fresh infusion of political freedom: She no longer needs to worry nearly so much about a conservative primary foe defeating her next year."

Even our Executive Director, Nick, gets a shoutout: “Troiano is now trying to elevate “political philanthropy” from a bit player to a major force in the industry of politics, with a long-term plan to change election laws in enough states to change Congress itself,” Berman writes. “The big idea: If more lawmakers in the House and Senate are, like Murkowski, rewarded rather than punished for working together, the institution as a whole will be far more responsive to voters.

  1. Primary challengers are wreaking havoc

In the days following the violent attack on the capitol, Republicans were in disarray. The president, leader of their party, had seemingly incited an attack on our democratic institutions. Now, they faced a choice: walk the party line, or break rank. If they broke rank, a primary challenger would be imminent, and their political futures would be in jeopardy. In the end, 10 representatives did; almost immediately, all 10 faced a primary challenge from the more extreme wing of their party. 

It’s a sad reality of our current political system: shaking off the shackles of party politics will almost certainly invite a primary challenge. These misshapen political incentives drive politicians to listen to the extremes of their party rather than the majority.

This week, the Washington Post profiles Adam Kinzinger, one of the 10 Republican dissenters who chose to break with their party, protect the constitution, and as a result, may lose his job. Kinzinger understands this; he understands the risks of his actions. But at this point, he doesn’t care. Says Kinzinger, “Leaders have got to start telling the truth.”

  1. Ranked choice voting is useful!

We love ranked choice voting. It’s simple -- voters rank candidates in order of preference; it’s cost effective -- eliminating the need for costly runoffs; and it ensures a majority winner by requiring the winner to win at least 50% support. 

It’s why states across the country are considering ranked choice voting as a way to improve election outcomes for voters by giving them more choice, voice, and power. Maine and Alaska both use the ranked choice voting for statewide elections, and cities across the country have taken up the issue as well. 

Now, Denver7 breaks down why Coloradans may want to consider the reform. Thousands of Coloradans were disenfranchised this past March when multiple candidates dropped out of the Presidential race ahead of Super Tuesday; ranked choice voting could have helped ensure voters’ voices were heard. Voters should come first; reforms like ranked choice voting can make that possible.