Presumptive 2020 Democratic nominee Joe Biden has prevailed in Alaska’s party-run Democratic presidential primary, capturing 55% of the vote and a majority of the party’s national convention delegates, the party announced this evening.
The Last Frontier is the first state to hold a nominating event following Bernie Sanders’ withdrawal from the presidential race. However, voting had been taking place before Sanders announced his exit. Sanders secured the remaining 45% of the vote in Alaska, easily clearing the viability threshold. Because Alaska has so few delegates, the candidates will get about an equal number of them.
Alaska Democrats opted to hold a presidential primary with their own infrastructure this year instead of holding caucuses or relying on a state-run primary like Democrats in Washington and Idaho chose to do. (On the Democratic side, Alaska, Washington, and Idaho were all caucus states in 2016.)
“The final results of Alaska’s first ever party-run primary utilizing ranked-choice voting are as follows, with fifteen delegates and two alternates apportioned. Biden: 55.3%, 10,834 votes, nine delegates including one alernate. Sanders: 44.7%, 8,755 votes, eight delegates including one alternate.”
Party leadership followed up with this statement: “Thanks to all Alaskans who voted in our party-run primary! We added a downloadable ballot, moved the deadline & shifted to all vote-by-mail for the safety of voters & volunteers — and you came through! It can and should be done everywhere.”
For context, Alaska has a population of 739,795 and about 550,000 registered voters. Most Alaska voters do not identify as Democrats, however, so it would be unfair to calculate turnout based on that number.
Instead, let’s use the number of registered Democratic voters in the State of Alaska, which has party registration. As of March 2nd, there were 74,690 voters in Alaska registered as Democrats, according to the Alaska Department of Elections. If we go with that number as our universe of possible voters, then we end up with turnout of 26.23%. So not stellar, but not abysmal either, considering that the nominating event was held amidst an unprecedented pandemic.
By switching to a party-run primary, Alaska Democrats were able to substantially improve turnout, even though they had to adapt to an outbreak of disease. In 2016, 8,447 people caucused for Bernie Sanders in Alaska, while 2,146 caucused for Hillary Clinton. Total participation was 10,610.
Now compare that to 2020. Nearly twice as many people participated in the Alaska Democratic Party’s nominating event this year as did last cycle.
That is a very encouraging sign for Alaska Democrats.
The success of this and other party-run primaries also suggests that this might be the last cycle where states are allowed to allocate national convention delegates using caucuses. Only a few states picked that option for 2020, including Iowa, Nevada, and North Dakota. Iowa’s caucuses were memorably marred by unexpected results reporting problems of the worst sort imaginable.
Then came the pandemic. Given the events of the last few weeks, I wonder if the DNC will let any state parties use caucuses for allocation in 2024.
I’m guessing they won’t. Primaries — whether party-run or state-run — are superior in every way as a means of allocating delegates.
Caucuses will still exist, and will still be useful as a means of selecting delegates when there isn’t a public health crisis raging. But caucuses should not be used for allocating delegates. Not in Iowa, not in Nevada, not anywhere.
Hawaii was also scheduled to hold a party-run primary this weekend, but their nominating event has been pushed into May due to the pandemic.