Alaskans will be trying out the state’s new ranked choice election system in June. One group is helping educate voters about how it works — with M&Ms.
Near the entrance to Amalga Distillery in Juneau, there are paper cups each with eight different flavors of M&M. The flavors represent the primary candidates for this mock election.
People scan a QR code and then vote for their favorite M&M. They can only pick one — that’s how Alaska’s new primary will work.
Once there are enough votes in, the top four M&Ms will face off in the general election. That’s when people will rank candidates.
Caroline Storm wasn’t a fan of the peanut butter flavor when she was tasting the candidates. She gave the rest to her partner.
Storm is from Anchorage and was in town for a few days, so she wanted to visit the distillery. She also wanted to learn more about the open, “pick-one” primary and ranked choice voting, so the event was a double win for her.
“I’m really excited it’s an open primary for the first time,” Storm said. “I think that’ll be more representative of Alaskans’ actual views on politics and the candidates, versus closed primaries.”
She said the M&M election is a fun way to engage with ranked choice, and she did learn more about how the process works.
“I found out just a little bit ago that you only get to choose one and not four for the primary. So that was new information to me,” Storm said.
And before the event, she didn’t quite understand how the candidates got eliminated in the general election.
Amanda Moser is with Alaskans For Better Elections. The group is responsible for writing the ballot measure in 2020 that changed how the state’s elections are held. Now they want to make sure Alaskans know what to do with those changes.
She said a lot of people have had the same confusion as Storm about the primary, which is why the group is traveling around the state to show people how it works with M&Ms.
“And the best thing about it is that it’s an interactive way for voters to familiarize themselves, reconnect with the great M&M flavors and feel confident with the process moving forward,” Moser said.
Moser said to remember that in the primary, you only pick one candidate. Then, in the general election, people rank the four candidates by preference, with the preferred candidate ranked first.
If a candidate gets 50-plus-one percent of the votes in the general election, they win. But if there isn’t a candidate with that many votes, that’s when the fourth place candidate is eliminated.
Moser explained how this works with the M&M election.
“So if our top four vote-getters are pretzel, caramel, peanut butter and dark chocolate, and dark chocolate is the fourth place vote getter, all the people who voted for dark chocolate — whoever they voted for for their second choice — those votes get redistributed to pretzel, caramel and peanut butter,” Moser said.
If there isn’t a candidate with 50-plus-one percent of the votes after the first elimination round, the process is repeated with the third-place candidate.
Peanut butter ended up winning in the M&M election. Pretzel got second, caramel third and dark chocolate fourth.
The special election primary to fill Alaska’s Congressional seat will happen on June 11, where people will vote for one out of 48 candidates. The special general election, when people rank the candidates, will be on Aug. 16. And just to make things more complicated, Aug. 16 is also the date for the regular primary election.