By BECKY BOHRER, Associated Press
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — State elections officials plan to release results Wednesday of the special election for Alaska’s only U.S. House seat, with Republican Sarah Palin and Democrat Mary Peltola vying to become the first woman to hold the seat.
The results are expected 15 days after the Aug. 16 election, in line with a deadline for state elections officials to receive absentee ballots mailed from outside the U.S. This is the first statewide race in Alaska in which ranked choice voting was used. Ranked voting is among a suite of elections changes approved by voters in 2020 that also included replacing party primaries with open primaries.
Peltola, a former state lawmaker who turned 49 on Wednesday, was leading in first-choice votes, followed by Palin and Republican Nick Begich.
Under ranked voting, ballots are counted in rounds. If one candidate gets more than 50% of the vote in the first round, they win. But if no one hits that threshold, a process begins in which the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate as their top pick then have their votes counted for their next choice. That process continues until two candidates remain, and whoever has the most votes wins.
The tabulation rounds were expected to begin late Wednesday afternoon. The Alaska Oil and Gas Association shortened its planned candidate forum in Anchorage, expected to feature all three candidates, to avoid overlapping with the release of results by the state Division of Elections. The division plans to livestream the tally.
Elections officials have targeted Friday for certification of the race.
The winner of the election will serve the remainder of the late U.S. Rep. Don Young’s term, which ends early next year. Young, a Republican, died in March and held the seat for 49 years.
Peltola, Palin and Begich also are seeking a full two-year term that will be decided in the November general election.
Peltola, on social media Wednesday, said: “No matter the outcome today I know we’re on our way to making sure this seat is ours in November.”
Peltola, who is Yup’ik, could become the first Alaska Native to serve in the House. She cast herself as a consensus builder and “regular” Alaskan. Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, is seeking a return to elected office 13 years after she resigned as Alaska governor in 2009. Begich, a businessman who comes from a family of prominent Democrats, came out hard against Palin, seeking to cast her a quitter and someone interested in self promotion. Palin has said that if elected she would use her connections to benefit the state.
Palin has criticized the ranked voting system as “convoluted” and said it should be changed.
Tom Emmer, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, seemed to downplay expectations ahead of the results and cast doubt on the process, calling the ranked voting system a “scheme,” and describing the possibility of a Democratic victory as “a false result.”
The organization in a video had encouraged voters to “only rank Republicans” and to “leave the Democrat blank.”
Jason Grenn, executive director of Alaskans for Better Elections, which advocated for the new voting process, said an aim behind the system was to give voters more choices and a “louder voice.”
“I think everyone’s expecting a very, very tight race,” he said. There has been a lot of discussion around whether the Republican candidates did enough to encourage their respective voters to rank the other Republican, he said.
Grenn said he thinks candidates will make adjustments to their campaigns ahead of the November general election based on takeaways from the special election.
Associated Press reporter Steve Peoples contributed from New York.
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