With her victory, the former state legislator will topple the seat held for nearly half a century by the late GOP Rep. Don Young, and is expected to become the first Alaskan native in Congress.
Young’s race for the seat had been viewed nationally through the prism of the attempted political comeback of Palin, who in 2008 became the Republican vice-presidential nominee and, after losing, in 2009 resigned. in the middle of his only term in the governor’s office.
Palin had been endorsed by former President Donald Trump. He has called for tele-rallies for his campaign and appeared at an event in Alaska in July to support Palin and other Republican candidates he has endorsed in this year’s races.
Palin has not run for office since leaving the governor’s office. But she will get another chance in the House race — Palin and Peltola are also among those vying for the full term in a separate election in November.
Palin criticized ranked voting in a statement after the results were released on Wednesday, calling it “a crazy, convoluted and confusing new system.”
“While we are disappointed with this result, Alaskans know that I am the last to retreat. Instead, I will reload. With the optimism that Alaskans learn from this error in the electoral system and correct it when of the next election, let’s work even harder to send an America-First Conservative to Washington in November,” she said.
The special election process began when a field of 48 candidates – including Santa Claus, a North Pole councilor and a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont – was narrowed down to four in a June primary in which candidates from all parties ran together. a single ballot.
Palin; Peltola; Nick Begich III, a Republican businessman from the state’s most notorious Democratic political family; and independent Al Gross were the four who advanced. But shortly after the primary, Gross dropped out of the race, a move that solidified Democratic support behind Peltola.
Peltola, meanwhile, has sought to appeal the Supreme Court ruling ending federal abortion rights protections, campaigning as a pro-abortion-rights, pro-union candidate with a deep connection to issues like fishing that are closely tied to Alaska’s identity and economy.
Peltola’s stint in the state legislature overlapped with Palin’s governorship, and the two displayed a warm relationship during the campaign trail. Peltola also has ties to Young’s family: his father taught school with Young before he was elected to Congress. And Peltola once spent Thanksgiving with Young’s family in the Washington, DC area.
The Alaska Division of Elections made its tally of ranked choices at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, more than two weeks after Election Day. Elections in Alaska are largely conducted by mail, and because some votes come from remote areas disconnected from road networks, the state allows an additional 10 days for ballots to arrive and be counted.
Voters in the state in 2020 approved a move to adopt a ranked-choice voting system: In open primaries that include candidates from all parties, voters cast a ballot for their first choice, and the top four voters advance. Then, in the general election, voters rank these four candidates from first to fourth.
A wrench was thrown into the process when Gross dropped out of the race shortly after entering the top four. Gross’s exit simplified the ranked choice system: instead of having to potentially eliminate two candidates and rank the second and third place picks of those candidates’ supporters, Alaska only had to eliminate one: Begich, who got 28% of the vote in the August 16 election to Peltola’s 40% and Palin’s 31%.
The shift to ranked voting appeared to go smoothly, despite the risk of confusion among voters who were voting in the primaries on August 16 for a single candidate in the November general election on the same day they ranked the four candidates in order. in the room. special election.
“Alaskans are a pretty savvy bunch. We’ve elected independent governors, U.S. senators with a write-in campaign. We’re used to elections that are a little different from most places,” said Jason Grenn, a former independent member of the legislature. of the state who is now the executive director of Alaskans for Better Elections, a group that lobbied for the preferential-choice voting system.
He was referring to former Governor Bill Walker, an independent who is running again this year against Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy, as well as Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican who in 2010 lost the Republican primary to the presidential candidate. Tea Party Joe Miller but then won the November general election as a write-in candidate.
“Open primaries, let voters choose whoever they want regardless of party affiliation, combined with ranked voting – it was really two different approaches that allow voters to have more power and have a voice stronger,” Grenn said. “They like to vote for the person, not the party.”
Murkowski, who is running for re-election this fall, congratulated Peltola on Wednesday, noting the history she is making. “While it is impossible for Alaska to replace Congressman Young, Mary has a long history of public service in our great state,” she said in a statement on Twitter.
All three candidates will get another shot at the House seat in November. Peltola, Palin and Begich were the top three in the primary for the regular election for the next full term. Republican Tara Sweeney, an Alaska Native who is backed by the state’s powerful Native corporations, finished fourth. But Sweeney drew only a small share of the primary vote at 4% compared to Peltola’s 37%, Palin’s 30% and Begich’s 26% in that primary.
Sweeney said she plans to drop out of the race because she “can’t see a path to victory, or to raise the resources to be successful in November.” Questions remain about when she will officially exit the race and whether Alaskan election officials will replace her on the ballot.
This story has been updated with additional developments.