Democrat Upsets Another GOP Favorite In AK Special Election

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Democratic contender Mary Peltola has won the special election for the remainder of the last term of Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who represented Alaska in its only U.S. House seat for decades up until his recent death.

The election used a ranked choice voting system. Voters could select multiple candidates and rank their choices, and in the event no candidate surpassed 50 percent in the first round, the last-place finisher would be eliminated from tabulations, with ballots cast by their supporters getting appropriately redistributed. In this election, the last-place finisher in the initial results was Republican contender Nick Begich III. In the first round, he had just 27.8 percent of the vote, former Alaska governor and fellow Republican candidate Sarah Palin nabbed 30.9 percent, and Peltola won 39.7 percent. When re-tabulations were conducted, Peltola ended up with 51.5 percent of the vote and Palin with 48.5 percent. Peltola was some 5,200 votes ahead of Palin in the final count.

“Half of the Alaskans who made Begich their first choice ranked Palin second, and 21 percent did not make a second choice,” according to The Washington Post. “The remaining 29 percent — a surprisingly large fraction, even to some of Peltola’s supporters — ranked Peltola second.” Peltola will be serving until January. “It is overwhelming. And it’s a very good feeling. I’m very grateful Alaskans have put their trust in me,” Peltola told the Post. “I will be immediately going to work.” Peltola’s previous experience includes a decade in the Alaska state legislature. Notably, her family was close with Don Young. The Congresswoman-elect’s father worked with Young when both were teachers, and both of her parents assisted with campaign efforts for Young in years past. Palin received support from Donald Trump, but the former president’s endorsement obviously wasn’t enough. Palin, Peltola, and Begich are all also running in the ongoing race to secure the next full, two-year term representing Alaska in the U.S. House.

“I think it also reveals that Alaskans are very tired of the bickering and the personal attacks,” Peltola remarked, discussing her surprise win. Unsurprisingly, the ranked choice voting system, which was approved by Alaska voters, isn’t a favorite of interests on the Right like Palin herself. It’s not brand new, however. Australia and New Zealand are among the countries that have conducted elections in a similar fashion. The Cook Political Report, which creates forecasts for elections around the U.S., changed its rating for the race to represent Alaska for the next full Congressional term from “Likely R” to “toss-up,” something potentially unthinkable just a short while ago. The same source also changed its ratings this week for four other House races, and all the new changes were in Dems’ favor. Other races singled out in the ratings changes were in Arizona, Maryland, New York, and Virginia. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which also releases forecasts for elections, recently changed its forecasts for the ongoing Senate races in Arizona and Pennsylvania from “toss-up” to “leans Democratic.”

Featured image: Gage Skidmore, available under a Creative Commons license