City of Anchorage, Alaska

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.)

Here’s the announce­ment from the par­ty:

“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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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