With the vote completed in Alaska’s special US House race on Tuesday — the state’s first-ranked elective election — Democrat Mary Peltola led Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III in early return with the most votes for first place, but the winner will will not be known until the final votes are counted later this month.
As of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Alaska Division of Elections has counted nearly 120,000 ballots in the race to determine Alaska’s next representative in Congress, in a special election to replace 49-year-old Rep. Don Young, who died unexpectedly in March. The Division will continue to accept ballots until August 31, as long as they are stamped on or before Election Day. Once the final votes are tallied — if no candidate crosses the 50% threshold required to win under the state’s new ranked electoral voting system — the last-place candidate will be eliminated and the second-place votes of the supporters of that candidate are redistributed.
With 224 of the 402 counties reporting, additional results are expected overnight.
All three candidates running in the special election will also run in the general election to serve the next term of the U.S. House beginning in January. All three are expected to advance to the November general election.
[Election results from the Division of Elections]
Peltola, a former Yup’ik state legislator from Bethel and the only Democrat in the race, took an early lead with 37% of the vote in first place.
Propelled by her name recognition, Palin took second place with over 33% of the vote. Begich, a businessman who made his first run for elected office statewide, was in third place at just under 29%.
With many votes to count, about 1% of voters gave their support to candidates who ran, including — among others — moderate Republican Tara Sweeney, an Iñupiaq whose six-figure campaign has garnered support from Alaska Native corporations. Since the entry candidates did not receive any significant support, their second-place votes will be distributed among the remaining candidates once the Election Department begins drafting the votes after the final votes have been counted.
[Photos: Election day in Alaska]
The results of the US House special race are not expected to be certified until September 2. Once the results are certified, the race winner will be sworn in to serve the final four months of Young’s term. But at the same time, the new US representative is likely to campaign ahead of the November election.
In the first primary that will determine which candidates will run on November’s ballot, Peltola were the top votes with 34%, Palin with nearly 32% of the vote, Begich with 27% and Sweeney with 3%. They emerged as the clear leaders from a field of 22 candidates.
With two weeks left until the vote counting is complete in the special election, the race will be determined by the number of voters who have more than one candidate ranked in the state’s first-ranked pick.
Palin has a devoted following, but also hates many old Alaskans who remember her decision to resign from the governorship and become a reality TV star. Begich runs with the support of the Alaska Republican Party establishment, but battles an association with his Democratic uncle, former US Senator Mark Begich. Either Begich or Palin would have to rely on second-place votes to overtake Peltola in the ranked pick table.
While proponents of ranked choice voting say it reduces negative campaigns — with candidates competing for their opponents’ votes in second place — this race defied that expectation. Palin and Begich spent the final weeks of the campaign with increasingly negative attacks on each other. Palin called Begich “Negative Nick” in a recent assault ad; Begich spent the last night before Election Day at a fundraiser in Wasilla, organized by Palin’s ex-husband’s father and stepmother.
On the morning of Election Day, Palin waved a campaign sign at an intersection in Wasilla next to a Begich supporter holding a large ‘Where’s Palin’ poster. Later that day, Palin denounced the electoral system and attacked Begich for his negative campaigning.
“If the other opponent had campaigned positively and honestly and his rhetoric hadn’t been so deceptive, I think I and so many others would have a different take on how things could potentially unfold tonight with the vote count.” Palin said while waving campaign signs in Wasilla.
Begich defended his attacks on Palin as a “classic part of campaigning.”
“You inform the public about yourself, your policies, your background, and you inform the public about the selves, the policies and the backgrounds of your opponents,” Begich said the night before the election. Still, Begich has echoed the Alaska Republican Party’s message: “Rank the red.” He said on Tuesday that he ranked Palin second and wrote one candidate for his third pick: “Donald Duck Jr.”
Palin said she has not ranked candidates other than herself.
“I don’t believe in this system. It should not be embraced by enthusiastic participation when we know it is not right,” she said. As she continued to attack the rankings voting, she said she would accept the results even if they are not in her favor.
“I’m not going to mess with this. I respect the will of the people. I will certainly ask a lot of questions on behalf of the Alaskans involved, but I have no intention of clouding the waters and crying if there is no clear evidence that something was wrong,” she said. “I’m not just going to accuse anyone of nefarious actions.”
Peltola said the ranking vote “made all candidates a little more civilized”. While Palin and Begich have attacked each other, Peltola said she thought “it could have been worse” with no ranked choice vote.
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Reporters Marc Lester and Nat Herz contributed to this story.
This is a story in development and will be updated.
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