Unofficial results from the Alaska Division of Elections show that Democrat Mary Peltola won the special election to replace Alaska’s House seat for the duration of 2022, blocking former Governor Sarah Palin’s attempt at a political comeback — at least for a few months.
When the ranked-choice voting system was used for the first time in Alaska on Wednesday, Peltola was declared the winner.
With her triumph, the former state legislator will become the first Alaska Native in Congress and will take over the position held for over 50 years by the late GOP Rep. Don Young.
The contest for Young’s seat had drawn attention from throughout the country due to Palin’s failed bid for a political return. Palin had run as the Republican candidate for vice president in 2008, but after losing, she resigned from her position as governor in the middle of her sole term in 2009.
Donald Trump, a previous president, has endorsed Palin. In support of Palin and other Republican candidates he has endorsed in this year’s races, he participated in tele-rallies for her campaign and showed up at a gathering in Alaska in July.
Since leaving her position as governor, Palin has not sought for office. She will, however, have a second chance at the House contest because Palin and Peltola are among the candidates running in a separate election in November for the full term.
After the results were announced on Wednesday, Palin criticised ranked-choice voting, calling it a “new insane, complex, stupid” method.
“Even if we’re dissatisfied with the outcome, Alaskans are aware that I’m the last person to ever give up. I’m going to reload instead. Let’s work even harder to send an America First conservative to Washington in November in the hopeful hope that Alaskans will learn from this voting system error and remedy it in the future election “She said.
A field of 48 candidates, including Santa Claus, a councillor from the North Pole, and a supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, were narrowed down to a final four in a primary election in June when candidates from all parties competed on the same ballot.
The four that won were Palin, Peltola, Republican businessman Nick Begich III (who comes from the state’s most prominent Democratic political dynasty), and independent Al Gross. But soon after the primary, Gross withdrew from the contest, which helped Peltola get more Democratic support.
Peltola, on the other hand, ran for office as a pro-abortion rights, pro-labor union candidate with a strong connection to issues like fishing that are integral to Alaska’s identity and economy. This was an attempt to capitalise on the Supreme Court’s decision ending federal abortion rights protections.
The two demonstrated a cordial connection on the campaign trail throughout Peltola’s time in the state legislature, which coincided with Palin’s tenure as governor. Peltola also has ties to Young’s family because her father shared a teaching career with Young prior to his election to Congress. And Peltola once travelled to the Washington, DC, region to spend Thanksgiving with Young’s family.
More than two weeks after Election Day, Alaska’s Division of Elections conducted its ranked-choice computation at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Alaska conducts most of its elections by mail, and the state gives 10 extra days for ballots to arrive and be counted because some votes come from isolated areas without access to transportation systems.
In 2020, the people of the state decided in favour of implementing ranked-choice voting: Voters cast one ballot for their favourite choice in open primaries where candidates from all parties are present, and the top four candidates progress. Voters then order those four candidates, from first to fourth, in the general election.
When Gross withdrew from the race after finishing in the top four, a wrench was thrown into the procedure. Gross’ exit simplified the ranked-choice system: Alaska only had to reject one contender, Begich, who received 28% of the vote in the election on August 16 compared to Peltola’s 40% and Palin’s 31%. Instead of potentially having to delete two candidates and count the second- and third-place selections of those candidates’ supporters.
Despite the potential for confusion among voters who were casting primary ballots on August 16 for one candidate for the general election in November while also rating the four candidates in order for the House special election, the changeover to ranked-choice voting seemed to go smoothly.
“Alaskans are a fairly intelligent group. We’ve chosen write-in candidates for US senators and independent governors. Elections typically look a little bit different here than they do elsewhere, “the executive director of Alaskans for Better Elections, a group that fought for the ranked-choice voting method, Jason Grenn, a former independent state legislator, said.
He was referring to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican who in 2010 lost the Republican primary to Tea Party candidate Joe Miller but went on to win the general election in November as a write-in candidate. He was also referring to former governor Bill Walker, an independent who is running again this year against Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
According to Grenn, “opening up the primaries, allowing voters to select candidates regardless of party affiliation, along with ranked-choice voting — it was really two different techniques that allow citizens to have greater power and have a bigger voice.” They prefer to vote for the individual rather than the party.
In a message to Peltola on Wednesday, Murkowski, who is up for reelection this autumn, praised her for the history she is creating. Mary has a long history of public service to our beautiful state, but it will be difficult for Alaska to replace Congressman Young, she said in a message on Twitter.
In November, all three candidates will get a second chance to win the House seat. The top three finishers in the primary for the general election for the following full term were Peltola, Palin, and Begich. Alaska Native Republican Tara Sweeney, who has the support of the state’s influential Native companies, came in fourth. However, Sweeney received a meagre 4% of the primary vote as opposed to Peltola’s 37%, Palin’s 30%, and Begich’s 26%.
According to Sweeney, she doesn’t “see a road to victory, nor to raise the money needed to be successful come November,” so she plans to withdraw from the campaign. There are still unanswered questions around the precise moment she officially withdrew from the campaign and whether Alaska election officials will replace her on the ballot.