It’s Tenterhooks for Sarah Palin and Foes

Results of next week’s special election to determine Alaska’s next member of the House will take until September to tally.

AP/Mark Thiessen
Governor Palin during a forum for House candidates, May 12, 2022, at Anchorage, Alaska. AP/Mark Thiessen

Next week Alaskans will go to the polls to choose their next at-large representative in Congress. With a tight race and a new voting system in place, the final results aren’t expected until September.

The race is to fill the seat of Congressman Don Young, who died in March after representing Alaska in the House for 50 years. What little polling has been conducted suggests that a state representative, Mary Peltola, a Democrat, enjoys a lead over her Republican opponents, Governor Palin and Nicholas Begich III.

Ms. Peltola’s lead is, in part, attributable to Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system, which allows voters to choose the order in which they prefer candidates.

Although voters cast only one ballot, the system uses “rounds of voting.” If no candidate wins a simple majority after the first round, the last-place candidate is eliminated and their supporters’ votes are distributed to the voters’ second choices.  

Because the race is so close, the new ranked-choice voting system could deliver to one of the candidates a “come-from-behind” victory, in the words of the Fair Vote spokesman, William Mantell.

Mr. Mantell warns that, though Ms. Peltola is in the lead in terms of first-choice votes, a Republican could pull ahead once the lowest-performing candidate’s voters are redistributed.

“When the lower-performing candidate of the two is eliminated, the other Republican may consolidate this vote and beat Peltola,” he tells the Sun.

There will be a long wait for this to happen, as votes will not be redistributed until 15 days after the election. That’s because Alaska counts absentee ballots that are received up to 15 days after election day, which is August 31 for this race.

In the 2020 election, such absentee ballots accounted for about 40 percent of the total votes. The reason there are so many, according to state election officials, is tied to Alaska’s geography and logistical difficulties in the Last Frontier. 

The end result is that in a close election like the one expected on August 16, voters will have almost no idea of who is poised to win until August 31 at the earliest.

The New York Sun

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