Palin is campaigning at CPAC against the electoral system that cost her a seat

  • Sarah Palin made it all the way to CPAC in Maryland to speak out against ranked-choice voting.
  • The system allows voters to rank multiple candidates and is designed to ensure that winners have majority support.
  • But Alaska elected a Democrat in part because of the system, and now conservatives want to get rid of it.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Among the far-right conservative influencers, politicians and personalities at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this year was former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the one-time Republican vice presidential candidate who recently lost a House race to Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola.

Palin, despite her enduring influence on American politics, did not have an official speaking slot at the convention.

But she could be seen wandering the halls Thursday, stopping for selfies and taking time to speak at media booths set up along the sides of the main conference room.

As it turned out, Palin had traveled all the way to the convention to help promote a nascent effort in Alaska to scrap the state’s ranked-choice voting system, which was first used in federal elections last year.

Palin speaks at a

Palin speaks at a “New Federal State of China” media booth at CPAC on March 3, 2023.

Bryan Metzger/Insider

Art Mathias, the leader of a group called Alaskans for Honest Elections, told Insider at CPAC that Palin “would have easily won” her election if the system had not been implemented. Palin, he said, serves as the group’s national spokesperson.

Alaskans for Honest Elections is seeking to overturn the new system and needs to gather tens of thousands of signatures across the state to put it on the ballot before the Alaska Electoral College.

So what is Mathias doing at CPAC, thousands of miles from Alaska?

“Raising money, making contacts, informing people,” Matias said. “Alaska is the epicenter for this. If we kill it in Alaska, we’ll kill it in America.”

“We need our parties”

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank multiple candidates for office, creating a system in which voters can choose not only their first choice for the job, but also several other candidates they would like to see win.

After the initial results are displayed, the candidates who received the lowest number of votes are successively eliminated and their votes are redistributed to other candidates based on the voter ranking. This continues until one candidate exceeds 50% of the vote.

Proponents argue that the system leads to less divisive elections — because of the imperative to seek second, third and fourth votes among supporters of other candidates — and ensures that the winner of the election has the support of a majority of the electorate.

Alaskans for Honest Elections had a booth at CPAC this year.

Alaskans for Honest Elections had a booth at CPAC this year.

Bryan Metzger/Insider

In theory, the system does not necessarily favor one party over another.

But in practice, Republicans have seen their chances thwarted by ranked-choice voting systems in Alaska and Maine, fueling opposition.

Mathias characterized the system as an effort backed by out-of-state interests and allies of Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has historically angered the Republican base, to avoid the “sane” primary process.

“We need our parties to vet the candidates so we know who they really are,” Matias said.

Mathias also countered the proponents’ argument, arguing that ranked-choice voting actually increases divisiveness. He cited the infighting between the two Republican candidates — Palin and fellow Republican candidate Nick Begich — that allowed Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola to prevail in both the August special election and the November general election.

Call a group

A group called “StopRCV” also had a table at CPAC this year.

Bryan Metzger/Insider

Conservatives in Washington have also begun to mobilize against ranked-choice voting, with Republicans in Congress criticizing the system.

As recently as January, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy blasted the system during a podcast appearance with Donald Trump Jr.

“Someone could get the most votes and not win!” McCarthy said. “Well, if you come in 3rd, you win. What? ‘I got a lot of second votes, I got a lot of 3rd votes — what does that mean?’

At CPAC, steps away from the booth of Alaskans for Honest Elections, another group opposed to ranked-choice voting, “” had set up its own table — filled with sunglasses, stickers, stress balls and literature for to hand out curious CPAC attendees.

Backed by Heritage Action and Save our States — a group dedicated to defending the legitimacy of the Electoral College — StopRCV is an effort to educate conservatives about the “dangers” of ranked-choice voting.

In arguing against the system, both StopRCV and Alaskans for Honest Elections have focused on the alleged complexity of ranked-choice voting — along with the fact that voters who don’t rank every candidate risk having their ballots ignored if the few candidates who do rank are eliminated.

“This is not a democracy. This is not how a democracy should work, it’s throwing your ballot in the trash,” said Lindsey McSparrin, a volunteer with StopRCV.

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