How Alaska’s most prolific fish almost won the state’s mock election of choice

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Crew members Brian Hagen, left, and Derrick Justice shovel pollock on the Commodore’s deck Jan. 24, 2019 (Nathaniel Herz / Alaska’s Energy Desk)

For a few glorious hours, the humble pollock was on top of the world. Or, more specifically, the fish was the favorite in an online election simulation for Alaska’s Favorite Seafood.

The State Elections Division has implemented the tool to give Alaskans a chance to practice ranked choice voting before it is rolled out in a real election next year.

But pollock’s apparent triumph made the Alaskans question the integrity of the election, and his victory was short-lived.

Let’s recap the mock election so far. The Elections Division put 18 seafood candidates on a primary ballot on June 1. Almost 4,000 online votes were cast. As in the real primary, voters had to choose a candidate and the top four advanced.

“We have pollock first, weather vane scallops second, king crab third, and halibut fourth,” said Tad Milbourn, an advocate for the RCV and creator of the Classified Vote app the division uses. “So these would be the four candidates in the general election of ranked choice. “

(Milbourn spoke before the polls closed. At the last minute, the king salmon edged halibut for fourth place and a place in the general ballot.)

This pollock won the primary with a whopping 27% of the vote sounded odd. Pollock is not a fish that Alaskans stay in rivers all night to catch. They don’t spend hours cleaning, smoking and setting up pollock jars. Customers do not ask for it by name at the fish counters.

“It’s just not a big demand in the fresh market,” said Rob Winfree, vice president of 10th & M Seafoods, which has sold fish in Anchorage for many decades.

Anchor lawyer Scott Kendall (courtesy photo)

To pollock’s credit, it is Alaska’s most abundant seafood. It is harvested and processed on massive ships in the Bering Sea. It’s the fish in fish fingers, the fillet in McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish.

This week, the Elections Division opened the mock general election for seafood. Just like the one Alaskans will find when they vote for real next November, there are four names on it, and the voter is in charge. rank each candidate, from 1 to 4.

But unlike the real election, the simulated seafood election allows you to see the results in real time. You can see how the last finalist’s votes are redistributed until a candidate wins a majority of the votes cast.

And on Wednesday, General’s Day 1, Pollock was running away with it. For a while, it was not necessary to consider voters’ second choices. The whitefish won the majority in the first round.

“The very obvious conclusion was, you know, that someone laughed at the results,” said lawyer and political strategist Scott Kendall.

Kendall co-wrote the 2020 ballot measure that requires ranked choice voting in all elections in Alaska starting next year. He knew something was wrong with that seafood vote.

“If I walk down the street and talk to 100 Alaskans, I would be hard pressed to find four or five who identified pollock as their favorite seafood in Alaska,” he said.

Was Kendall worried that a pollock victory would discredit ranked choice voting? Yes and no. For one thing, everyone is used to online marketing surveys that produce silly results. But Kendall said this little poll had more stature.

“This is the elections division,” he said. “A totally wacky result leads to an unfortunate conversation about what happened there.”

Hours after polling stations opened in the mock general election, Election Division public relations director Tiffany Montemayor suspected that duplicate votes, that is, votes coming from the same computers , skewed the results. Montemayor belatedly ticked the box to eliminate duplicates from the count.

And pouf! In an instant, the pollock plunged. He obtained nearly 300 votes. There were 15 left.

In total, around 400 dummy ballots were discarded in duplicate. They were heavily weighted towards the pollock.

Who would do such a thing? On social media, speculation was rampant. Were Russian robots at work? Was this a way of undermining electoral integrity?

Some have seen Big Pollock’s fingerprints. They weren’t wrong.

“We’ve certainly put out a number of posts telling people we’re really proud to see the Alaska Pollock optionally available” on the dummy ballot, said Craig Morris, CEO of the Association of Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers .

The Pollock Marketing Association has worked for years to rebrand pollock as a healthy and desirable fish fit for a chef. Morris said they tried to spark passion for pollock.

If many pollock votes were duplicates, Morris attributes this to the zeal of the new converts.

“We have done everything we can to promote our fish in a way that creates evangelists,” he said. “So obviously we’ve created a few evangelists, at least, there. “

Polls close for the seafood elections on June 30.

Montemayor, the head of public relations for the Elections Division, could not say how many duplicates caused Pollock to win the primary. The division will hold more mock contests to educate Alaskans on choice voting, she said in an email, and duplicate votes will not be counted.

“The Division strives to administer fair and accurate elections, even bogus elections,” she said.


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