2020 Primary election

Poll workers at the Fairbanks North Star Borough Juanita Helms Administrative Center that voting had been slow throughout the day, attributing the low turnout numbers to increased use of voting by mail this year due to concerns over COVID-19. Erin McGroarty/News-Miner.

The assembly finished off ranked choice voting in a 1-7 vote on Thursday.

The sponsors even abandoned the idea after protests and dozens of emails and comments in opposition.

Assemblywoman Liz Lyke was the sole “yes” vote on a measure to put it to a vote of the people on the Oct. 5 ballot saying she thinks ranked choice voting would result in better representation.

But Assemblywoman Leah Berman Williams, a sponsor, said a significant number of people are against it and it would be better to wait for it to be adopted by the state. Ranked choice voting goes into effect for state elections starting Nov. 8, 2022.

“Let people experience this type of election and see if they like it before we try and go changing things,” agreed Assemblyman Jimi Cash.

The reconvened meeting started off tense. Williams had the floor and was explaining why she planned to vote against her own ordinance when she referred to the public comments.

“A significant amount of the email has been strongly against the idea of ranked choice voting,” she said. “And as I think about the emails that I have received, especially those in opposition, I was struck by several things. One thing I was struck by was that a number of the emails were significantly uncivil. They were rude. They were mean. They were angry.”

Cash interrupted with a point of order, which is a pause in a meeting to see if the correct procedure is being followed. He said that Williams was supposed to be discussing the ordinance, not citizens’ response to it.

“She is discussing the ordinance and the merits of the public testimony so I will allow it,” Presiding Officer Mindy O’Neall ruled.

Williams continued and then Assemblyman Frank Tomaszewski called a point of order. He said Williams was “denigrating the testimony on this issue” and asked for a “ruling of the chair by the full assembly.”

“I have ruled that there is not an issue with the report that Miss Williams is giving,” O’Neall said.

Williams agreed to pause her comments but O’Neall told her to continue. One of the problems with the testimony was misinformation, Williams said. She elaborated on that in a text message Friday.

A major criticism of ranked choice voting is exhausted ballots. That’s when all of the candidates a voter ranked have lost even though two or more other candidates remain in the race. Some critics of ranked choice voting feel the voter is then disenfranchised.

“The sense I got from many emails is that they thought that if they ranked only one candidate, that their ballot would automatically be exhausted,” Williams said. “This is not correct. Their ballot would be exhausted only in the specific scenario where their first choice candidate was eliminated because it was the least favorite … and they hadn’t selected a second candidate.”

Voters whose top-ranked candidate is most preferred by others do not see their ballot exhausted.

“That’s where the misunderstanding or misinformation comes in,” Williams said,” where people seemed to think that if they only ranked one candidate, their ballot would be exhausted no matter how their preferred candidate ended up after the first round.”

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMborough.