February 5, 2023

Senate, Candidate, Kelly Tshibaka, Politics

Kelly Tshibaka, a right-wing Republican who ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate last year, announced Monday that she has formed a new organization to oppose the ladder election.

In doing so, Tshibaka became the second conservative Republican to turn her energies to fighting the ladder election after losing an election in November. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who lost a bid for the US House of Representatives last year, also announced shortly after the election that she would devote her time to fighting Alaska’s new electoral laws.

Tshibaka’s nonprofit organization Preserve Democracy was formed last month, according to state records. In a prepared statement released Monday, Tshibaka linked Alaska’s 2022 turnout, which was lower than the previous two midterm elections, to the new ranking voting system, calling it “a political weapon and an emerging threat to our democracy.”

Proponents of ranked voting — a voting system used in congressional elections in Alaska and Maine and in several other states for local elections — have said it favors candidates who appeal to a broader constituency of voters and encourages elected officials to work together across party lines Avoid partisan grudges.

Ranked voting was introduced in Alaska through a 2020 ballot measure that voters narrowly approved. Under Alaska’s new voting rules, first applied in 2022, all candidates in congressional and legislative elections will run in open, nonpartisan primaries. The top four vote collectors then advance to the ranked general election.

“The poll we conducted after the election showed there was strong support for it. An overwhelming number of voters found it easy,” said Bruce Botelho, former Alaska Attorney General and board member of Alaskans for Better Elections, the group behind the 2020 election measure.

Botelho said Alaskans for Better Elections, which has millions of dollars in support from outside organizations, is “fully prepared to defend the system.”

Tshibaka said she intends to use her new organization to commission polls that could show different results than those found by Alaskans for Better Elections – shedding light on what she says is confusion, keeping voters out of the polls.

In her run for the US Senate – Tshibaka’s first run for elected office after a career spent mostly in the federal government bureaucracy – Tshibaka finished second to moderate Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Tshibaka’s loss came despite support from the Alaska Republican Party and an endorsement from former President Donald Trump.

According to a statement from Preserve Democracy, the group will seek to halt or reverse precedence voting processes in Alaska and other states “by presenting evidence demonstrating the undemocratic effects of RCV.”

In Alaska, leaderboard elections can be challenged in two ways: either through legislation passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, or through a citizens’ initiative.

Conservative Republicans in the Legislature have already introduced several bills to repeal ranked voting, but members of the bipartisan Senate majority have said they have no intention of passing a bill that would abolish ranked voting after the new voting method appeared to help several of them defeat more conservative opponents.

A separate group, Alaskans for Honest Elections, launched an initiative championed by Palin in November to overturn Alaska’s new election laws by vote. Her initiative was approved Friday by Lt. gov. Nancy Dahlstrom approves, allowing the group to begin collecting the 30,000 signatures needed to put the initiative on the 2024 ballot. Even if they manage to collect the necessary signatures, ranked voting will be maintained at least through the 2024 election cycle, unless lawmakers pass legislation changing electoral laws that year.

Art Mathias, a leader with Alaskans for Honest Elections, said Palin has served as the organization’s “national spokesperson” and has worked to help the group raise funds out of state

Tshibaka, meanwhile, said Monday she would not take part in the ballot initiative, positing that her involvement could make the effort appear more partisan.

“At this point I think it’s just really muddling the water. And it makes it a political thing when it shouldn’t be a political thing,” Tshibaka said. “I’m concerned that if I join this effort to try to pick it up right here, it’s really not going to be about the effort. It will be more about the big names.”

With the voting action already underway, Alaskans for Better Elections is preparing for a fight to win the Alaska ranked vote.

“We assume that this will be an important campaign issue in 2024,” said Botelho.

Record low turnout?

According to the Alaska Division of Elections, just over 267,000 registered voters turned out in the 2022 election, the lowest voter count since 2010, when nearly 259,000 registered voters attended.

Elections held in years when there are no presidential candidates tend to have lower turnout rates. Around 285,000 Alaskans cast their ballots in both 2014 and 2018. But over the same years voter turnout seemed to be declining. That’s because of a measure approved by Alaska residents in 2016 that automatically registered eligible Alaska residents to vote when requesting the Permanent Fund’s dividend. Largely driven by this measure, Alaska’s registered voter count rose from fewer than 500,000 in 2010 to over 600,000 in 2022, while the state’s population remained virtually unchanged.

Nevertheless, Tshibaka cites voter turnout as one of the main reasons for her new initiative. On paper it is the lowest in the country’s history, although in practice the 2022 and 2010 election rates are very similar.

“It worries me that across Alaska votes weren’t coming in, political parties weren’t coming in, across the socioeconomic spectrum weren’t coming in,” Tshibaka said.

Rather than reacting to her recent election loss, Tshibaka said the new group is intended to warn other states of the dangers that have unfolded in Alaska.

“I don’t think I would have started with that if it was just a loss to Murkowski but not such blatant data behind it that was really alarming. For me, it was the record low turnout combined with all the voices I’ve heard in two years,” Tshibaka said.

But Botelho, with Alaskans for Better Elections, said the lower turnout could be a matter of voters adjusting to a new system.

“The fact that it was different may have put people off trying it. There is no doubt that we – especially Alaskans for Better Elections and the Division of Elections – have a duty to do everything in our power to continue to educate the public about this,” Botelho said. “It’s our first year trying to do that. I firmly believe that turnout will improve over time, but turnout is also primarily determined by the issues that are on the ballot and the candidates and offices up for re-election.”

The new voting system, which appeared to favor moderate candidates at the expense of conservative Republicans during its first run in Alaska, Botelho said had met the goals set by Alaskans for Better Elections.

“Clearly it doesn’t favor any particular party, but I think it achieved what we were hoping for: it would bring in more people willing to pitch their names as candidates from across the political spectrum; It would encourage candidates to build bridges and work toward the middle, which I think has been lacking in the state for some time,” he said.

In an interview earlier this month, Republican Lt. gov. Nancy Dahlstrom that negative messages about the Alaskan election — released before the election even happened — may have disenfranchised voters. Palin had made negative messages about the ladder election a core part of her campaign, while Tshibaka had emphasized throughout her campaign that the election would be determined by turnout.

Regardless of intent, Botelho said negative comments about Alaska’s new voting system could unintentionally impact voter turnout.

“A by-product of this can clearly result in people being discouraged from voting,” Botelho said. “Constantly hearing the news about how anti-democratic preferential voting is could actually affect people’s decision to vote or not.”

‘Its working again’

Tshibaka’s announcement Monday was the first public hint she has made about her post-election plans after more than 18 months of campaigning full-time ahead of November’s election. Prior to that, Tshibaka served as Commissioner for the Alaska Department of Administration under Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy. That was the first and only job Tshibaka had in Alaska, having spent most of her career in Washington, DC

Preserve Democracy lists Heather Gottshall, Simcha Weed and Stuart Gates as directors of the group. Gottshall, an Alaskan resident, was one of Tshibaka’s running mates in last year’s election campaign. Gates, a strategic communications consultant, lives in Florida. Weed, who worked for the Department of Defense on cybersecurity issues, lives in Mexico. According to Tshibaka, the group relies on contributions from both Alaska and other states.

Tshibaka said she expects ranked voting efforts to take a fifth of her time in the coming months. Her other ventures include a startup consulting firm called Denali Strategies, which launched just days after the election and which Tshibaka said she uses to work with Alaskan companies on projects related to the Alaskan housing crisis. And she hasn’t ruled out running for office again – although she hasn’t decided on a specific race.

“I like the idea of ​​running again in the future, but it has to be for the right place and at the right time. And right now I’m not thinking about any of that,” Tshibaka said.

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