Alaska will be the first state in America to use the “top-four” primary system now that the Associated Press has called a victory for Measure 2, which passed by a narrow 50.5-49.5 margin. Starting in 2022, Measure 2 will require all the candidates for congressional, legislative, and statewide races to face off on one primary ballot, where contenders will have the option to identify themselves with a party label or be listed as “undeclared” or “nonpartisan.”
The top four vote-getters will advance to the general election, where voters will be able to rank their choices using instant-runoff voting. Measure 2 will also institute instant-runoff voting for the presidential contest, which will make Alaska only the second state in America besides Maine to do this, and it will also set up new financial disclosure requirements for state-level candidates.
The success of Measure 2 could have big repercussions for Alaska politics even before it takes effect in 2022. The state House is currently controlled by a coalition of Democrats, independents, and dissident Republicans, and it’s possible that a similar arrangement could be put in place next year. State Senate Republicans do have control of their upper chamber, but Democrats are hoping that ongoing GOP infighting will give them a chance to form a governing coalition of their own with renegade Republicans.
Democratic state Sen. Bill Wielechowski predicted just before Election Day that bipartisan coalitions may be more likely in either chamber if Measure 2 passed, since the top-four will reduce the influence of conservative Republican primary voters and thus could make it easier for members to form cross-party alliances and still keep their seats. We may find out if he was right soon enough.
Another big winner from the success of Measure 2 is Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is up for reelection in 2022. The state’s conservative base has long despised Murkowski, and they even denied her renomination in 2010 against challenger Joe Miller in a stunner; Murkowski managed to keep her seat in the fall, though, by waging a successful write-in campaign against Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams.
Murkowski could have been in for a similar experience two years from now if Measure 2 had failed and the current partisan primary system remained in place. Murkowski has had an awful relationship with Donald Trump for a long time, and he tweeted in June, “Few people know where they’ll be in two years from now, but I do, in the Great State of Alaska (which I love) campaigning against Senator Lisa Murkowski.” Murkowski, though, will likely be harder for Trump and his allies to beat now that she no longer has a GOP primary to worry about.