dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog random header image

Election Reform Changes the Game

September 11th, 2022 by dk

If I told you that Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives doubled their influence overnight as the result of a single state election, you’d call me crazy, right? Well, something’s crazy about our electoral system, and it ain’t me.

Last week, Democrat Mary Peltola was elected to fill Alaska’s lone House seat, replacing Republican Don Young, who held the seat for nearly 50 years. Peltola will represent all 571,951 square miles of Alaska. The other 219 Democratic House districts combined do not cover this much ground (literally).

How did Peltola manage to beat Sarah Palin, a national celebrity, and Nick Begich III, the grandson of Rep. Don Young’s predecessor in Congress? She was simply liked by more voters and disliked by fewer.

That used to be the hallmark of a decent politician — to be liked by many and hated by few. Voters didn’t reward polarizing figures because they generally failed as legislators. Legislation used to require compromise and open-mindedness, so being well liked by the opposing party brought tangible benefits.

That was before cable news gave elected officials an alternate path to success. Now they can appear on TV excoriating their opponents. Fame and familiarity can look like success to voters back home. Being a pariah can be worn as a badge of honor. That “fires up” the “base.”

Politicians have changed. Voters have changed their expectations in response. Polarizing figures attract the most attention, create the most noise, get the least done, but reap the greatest rewards. Exhibit A: Sarah Palin.

Why didn’t Trump-endorsed Palin trounce Peltola? Because a majority of Alaskans hate what Palin has become. Fifty-five percent of Alaskans voted for “anyone but Palin.”

Alaska used Ranked Choice Voting. Peltola received only about 40 percent of first-choice votes in the three-way race. Palin and Begich — both Republicans — split the other 60 percent. Once Begich was eliminated, his voters’ second choices were tallied. Only half of Begich’s supporters named fellow Republican Palin as their second choice.

This may turn out to be the most hopeful development for Democracy since the suffrage movements. We can’t change candidates or voters. They’ll change themselves if we change the connection between them. Tug-of-war becomes a different game if the rope is replaced with a wet noodle.

We shouldn’t be surprised that flame-throwers and misanthropes are filling the halls of Capitol Hill. The current system optimizes that outcome. Ranked Choice Voting changed the rules. And it’s not even the best system out there. The spoiler effect is still possible, because voters cannot rank any two candidates equally. On a crowded ballot, your second and third choices will not be tallied if your first choice is the runner-up. (Ironically, Republicans may have won Alaska if Palin had come in third.)

One voting reform alternative that gives every voter an equal voice was born here in Eugene, and it’s currently gathering signatures for a place on the November 2024 ballot. STAR Voting is simple, easy and fair. Voters give every candidate up to five stars, just like a Yelp review. The total number of stars is tallied, then the ballots compare the top two directly — Score, Then Automatic Runoff.

“Our current process is plagued with vote-splitting and spoilers if there are more than two candidates. This leads to a whole slew of toxic incentives and hyper-polarization,” explained Equal Vote Coalition Executive Director Sara Wolk.

If you see a pleasant person with a clipboard gathering signatures for STAR Voting, give them a moment of your time. Voting reform may be the secret to improving campaigns, elections, candidates, voters, and this grand experiment of self-government.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

Tags: No Comments

Leave A Comment

Are you human? *

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.