Commentary

On hiking one more mile and ranking one more candidate

Commentary writer lays out argument for filling out the Alaska entire ballot

November 4, 2022 5:29 pm
Denali, North America's tallest peak, is viewed from the Parks Highway on Sept. 20. The district in which incumbent Sen. Mike Shower and challenger Doug Massie are running is vast, streching up the Parks Highway farther north than Denali and sweeping south to include Valdez on the coast of Prince William Sound. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Denali, North America's tallest peak, is viewed from the Parks Highway on Sept. 20. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

How many french fries should I eat? How many days should I go fishing? How far should I hike? Alaskan voters face an important “how much” question in the current election. We must decide how many candidates to rank on our ballots. We can answer that question the same way we should decide any question of how much to do something.

The answer to these questions involves balancing the cost of going just slightly farther against the benefits of doing the same. For instance, in the hiking question going an additional mile might get you to a summit, or to a lake or campsite. It also might mean needing additional gear and strenuous effort. At some point the cost of going just a bit farther outweighs the benefits of that better view or campsite, and we stop hiking.

The benefits of ranking more candidates are straightforward. If you allow your ballot to be exhausted you both lose your say in the election, and the winner is more likely to be determined by a median voter who you disagree with on most issues. Because the winner only needs 50%+1 votes in any given round, as ballots are exhausted the total number of votes needed to win will shrink. By ranking more candidates you make it more difficult for your most disliked candidate to win and keep your voice in our government. Additionally, if very few ballots are exhausted, candidates need to win second- and third-choice votes to win – the clearest path to doing this is to build coalitions and find areas of agreement with other candidates. 

We face three potential costs. 

In several races we also have the chance to vote against people we really don’t like up to four times, which is pretty cool.

The first, is that we must physically fill in an additional small bubble with ink. 

The second cost comes in the form of our self-identity. In a hyper-partisan time, many people have built personalities around not compromising on political issues. As a person who has my own religious beliefs, I understand and respect this. However, it is worth remembering we’ve always ranked candidates when voting. We ranked one candidate as our first choice, and every other candidate as not our first choice. Now we are identifying the level to which we can tolerate being represented by the others. We can differentiate candidates based on the mix of issues we trust them on, if we think it will be easier to replace them in the future, if we think they will run an effective office for constituent services, or any reason. In several races we also have the chance to vote against people we really don’t like up to four times, which is pretty cool.

The third cost is potentially losing standing with our friends if they misinterpret our ranking someone second or third as support for every decision that candidate has ever made. We can reduce this by explaining how ranked choice voting works or, like humans have done since the dawn of time, we can we can just not tell people we ranked every candidate. This is a great way to avoid awkward social situations and no one will ever know how or if you ranked the candidates in any election.

An honest accounting of the costs and benefits supports ranking your entire ballot. The benefits – a greater say in our government, insuring against the candidates you most disagree with, and incentivizing candidates to pursue every vote and try to represent every Alaskan outweigh the cost.

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Kevin Berry
Kevin Berry

Kevin Berry is an associate professor of economics at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He was a postdoctoral associate at Yale University and received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wyoming. He studies decision making under uncertainty and the economics of risk. His children are fourth-generation Alaskans. Kevin is an avid cyclist and hiker.

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