Alaska's Election Model: How the top-four nonpartisan primary system improves participation, competition, and representation

  • Description

Though nicknamed the "Last Frontier," Alaska is now very much the first frontier when it comes to election innovation in the United States. In the coming years, election reforms with the greatest impact on the health of our democracy will be those that improve political incentives: how candidates run for office, and how they govern once elected.

Approved by voters in 2020 and used for the first time in 2022, Alaska's new election system pairs a top-four nonpartisan primary with an instant runoff general election. Already, our research finds that Alaska's reform has given voters more voice and power in who represents them and significantly increased electoral competition, tempered political extremism, and delivered a voting system that is viewed as both simple and popular among voters.

Importantly, the reform did not advantage one party over the other: a conservative Republican, moderate Republican, and moderate Democrat were elected by the same electorate to statewide offices. Republicans retained legislative majorities, while Alaska's tradition of cross-partisan governing coalitions continued throughout the 2023 legislative session.