Alaska’s Juneau (AP) — Wednesday’s special election for Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat saw Democrat Mary Peltola defeat Republican Sarah Palin, who was running for re-election in the state where she previously served as governor. Peltola, a Yup’ik who turned 49 on Wednesday, will occupy the House seat for the first time as a woman and as an Alaska Native. The remaining months of the late Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young’s term will be filled by her. Before he passed away in March, Young had held the position for 49 years.
There probably won’t be another birthday like this one, Peltola remarked. She remarked in an interview, “Really, I’m just very appreciative to Alaskans and all the Alaskans who put their faith in me to finish out the remaining term of Congressman Young. “I really can’t wait to go to work,” said Congressman Young of his desire to continue representing all Alaskans.
An advantage for Democrats is Peltola’s victory in Alaska’s first statewide ranked-choice voting election, especially in light of Democrats’ better-than-anticipated results in special elections around the nation this year following the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Since the late U.S. Rep. Nick Begich, who was running for re-election in 1972 when his plane vanished, she will be the first Democrat to retain the seat.
Begich was later pronounced deceased, and Young was chosen to fill the position in 1973. While her two Republican opponents, Palin and Begich’s grandson Nick Begich, occasionally engaged in personal attacks, Peltola ran as an uniter. Additionally, Alaskan voters’ ranked voting method was denounced by Palin. Peltola, Palin, and Begich are all running for a two-year term that would begin in January in the general election in November.
The results were announced 15 days after the election on August 16, which was the deadline for state election officials to receive absentee ballots sent from abroad. No candidate received more than 50% of the first-choice votes, thus ranked-choice tabulations were conducted on Wednesday. State elections officials broadcast the proceedings live. Prior to the tabulations, Peltola was in the lead, followed by Palin and Begich.
Election results will be certified by state officials on Friday. Leaders of the Alaska Democratic Party praised Peltola’s victory. State Democratic party head Michael Wenstrup said in a statement that Alaskans “have made plain they want a sensible, steadfast, honest and compassionate voice speaking for them in Washington D.C., not opportunists and extremists connected with the Alaska Republican Party.”
When John McCain chose Sarah Palin to be his running mate in the 2008 presidential election, she was catapulted into the national spotlight and was hoping to make a political comeback. However, Wednesday’s results were disappointing for Palin. She garnered the support of former President Donald Trump during her campaign for the House seat due to her well-known name.
Palin criticized the ranked voting system as “crazy, complex, confusing” when Peltola’s victory was declared. Though upset with the decision, Palin remarked in a statement, “Alaskans know I’m the last one who’ll ever retreat.” Begich welcomed Peltola in a statement and expressed excitement for the election in November. Critics who questioned Palin’s dedication to Alaska throughout the campaign pointed to her choice to step down from her position as governor in July 2009, midway through her term. Later, Palin worked as a conservative TV analyst and participated in reality shows, among other things.
Prior to the special election, Palin claimed that her dedication to Alaska had never faltered and that she had “signed up for the long haul.” Former state legislator Peltola described herself as an “ordinary” Alaskan while most recently working for a commission whose objective is to restore salmon resources on the Kuskokwim River. I don’t have a million dollars. I’m not a well-known figure around the world,” she said.
According to Peltola, she was optimistic that the new system would enable the election of more moderate politicians. She stressed her support for abortion rights during the campaign and stated that she wants to raise awareness of concerns relating to ocean productivity and food security. After the special primary in June, Peltola claimed she received support from Democrats and independents who had also run for office. She asserted that she thought her message of optimism connected with voters.
“Having a message of working together and optimism and holding each other up and togetherness and as Americans, none of us is each other’s adversary has been really enticing to a lot of folks,” she said. Simply put, “That’s a message people need to hear right now.” In 2020, Alaskan voters accepted a new electoral system that substituted open primaries for party primaries. General elections are conducted using ranked voting under the new system.
Votes are tallied in rounds under ranked voting. With more than 50% of the vote in the first round, a candidate can win the election outright. The candidate with the fewest votes is declared the winner if no one receives more votes than that. Votes cast for the candidate who received the most support from voters are counted toward the next candidate. There are more rounds until there are only two candidates left; the one with the most votes wins.
The last time Alaskans supported a Democrat for president was in 1964. According to data from the Division of Elections, there are more registered voters who are not associated with a party than there are Republicans and Democrats put together. Mark Begich, Nick Begich’s uncle, who spent one term in the U.S. Senate and failed to win reelection in 2014, was the final Democratic member of Alaska’s congressional delegation.
Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, who represent Alaska in the U.S. Senate, praised Peltola. Peltola “has a long track record of public service to our beautiful state,” according to Murkowski. Peltola and Murkowski both served in the state legislature.
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