How the Alaska Division of Elections educates thousands with creative RankedVote contests
The Alaska Division of Elections is responsible for administering all state and federal elections in Alaska. Its mission is to ensure public confidence in the electoral process.
RankedVote spoke with Tiffany Montemayor, Public Relations Manager for the Alaska Division of Elections, about the Division's recent efforts to educate voters for the 2022 Midterm Elections.
"We do everything for all federal and statewide elections. With a full-time staff of just 27 across the largest state in country...it's pretty amazing what we were able to do in 2022."Tiffany MonteMayor, PR Manager
Alaska Division of Elections
A 2020 ballot measure reformed the way Alaska does its elections.
The ballot measure moved Alaska to "open primaries" where all candidates for an office appear on the same ballot regardless of party affiliation. The top four vote getters in the primary election then move on to the general election. In the general election, ranked choice voting is used to select the most preferred candidate from amongst those four.
The Alaska Division of Elections had a tall order on its hands. The new system would go into effect immediately — with the first scheduled elections in 2022. And, it needed to educate over 600,000 registered voters about how the new system works in a geography that is unforgiving.
To give a sense of the difficulty...
- Alaska is gigantic. It's bigger than California and Texas combined.
- 82% of communities are not accessible by road.
- Mail delivery is once a week in many communities.
Out of necessity, the Alaska Division of Elections took a multi-channel "all of the above" approach to get their message out. For online efforts, the Division partnered with RankedVote to bring a highly interactive and realistic experience to their voter education.
Fishing for a Local Angle
But, it's not as simple as just putting something out for a vote and assuming people will participate. Asking Alaskans to vote on "favorite color" is so bland it borders on beige. And, even "favorite color" could be construed as having partisan undertones, which the Division was looking to avoid.
That's why the Division turned to topics of local pride. And, Alaskans love their fish.
"A lot of seafood that people eat all over the country comes from Alaska," said Montemayor. "Most of the salmon comes from here, and king crab and all of that. People here are very proud of our seafood and the industry. So I thought, that'll be a good place to start."
Now with a solid hook for voters to select their favorite Alaska seafood, the Division set about creating a Top Four primary election with options ranging from scallops to king salmon.
Hundreds participated in the primary and got a feel for how the pick one aspect would work. The top four moved on to the ranked choice general election where, once again, hundreds participated.
King Crab ultimately took the crown for "Best Seafood in Alaska" and Alaskans got their first taste of the new voting system a full 12 months before the real midterms.
Engaging Current (and Future) Voters
As the midterms drew closer, the Division looked for ways to drive awareness across a broad swath of Alaskan residents.
Building upon a years-long track record of great "I Voted" sticker designs, the Alaska Division of Elections sought to take things to the next level with a contest on RankedVote that would get all ages involved. Elementary and middle school-aged children were tasked with submitting designs for Alaska's "I Voted" stickers.
And, to make things interesting, the winning designs would be included in the mail-in ballots sent to all Alaskan voters (over 600,000 people).
Dozens of designs from every region of the state flowed in — almost too many to choose from. Thankfully, the "Top Four" primary plus ranked choice general election combination is ideally suited for this scenario. Each region's multitude of designs were winnowed down to the top four. Then, those four were ranked and a winning design for each of the state's five regions was found.
While the kids were busy designing, the adults were busy promoting.
Parents rallied others to vote for their preferred sticker in real life and on social media. Small-scale "get out the vote" campaigns popped up. Ultimately, thousands would vote across the primary and general elections to determine each region's winner.
The Division of Elections aggregate efforts were an incredible success. 79% of voters found the new system to be simple. 92% of voters reported receiving information on how to rank prior to the election. And, even with voters using a new system for the first time, ballot errors were negligible.
With RankedVote, the Division also ended up with...
Amazing "I Voted" Stickers
Kids ages 5-13 from across the state rose to the occasion (look at the results below). Even though they were too young to vote, they were still engaged in the political process — all while creating meaningful art. And, they gave their voting age parents a reason to pay closer attention to the election.
Thousands of Voters Having a Realistic Voting Experience Prior to Election Day
Across their contests, over 2,000 voters participated in realistic simulations of a "Top Four" primary election and ranked choice general election. Whether it was on their computers or mobile phones, Alaskans could quickly vote and experience something close to the real thing — dealing with any learning curve in a low-stakes environment.
Multiple Earned Media Hits
The contests resonated with local media. Everyone from television stations like KTUU, to radio stations like KUAC and KRBD, to news outlets like Alaska Public Media and the Ketchikan Daily News mentioned the contests — exposing many thousands more to messages about Top Four and ranked choice voting.
Tailor Your Contest and Raise the Stakes
"Tailor it to your city, state, or wherever you are. Find something people can get passionate about. Even though voting only takes 30 seconds, you need to give them a reason to do it.
"What worked out best for us was when there was something at stake at the end of it. In a real election, there are stakes. There are implications to the end of it. With our sticker election, that's what it was. Something was actually going to happen because of that election and they'd be able to hold that result in their hands when it was done. That's how we got everyone involved: kids, adults, people who vote, people who aren't registered yet...everyone!"
— Tiffany Montemayor, Public Relations Manager, Alaska Division of Elections