Alaska Rep. Mary Peltola, the Democrat who won a special election that sent her to Congress this summer, could once again thwart form Gov. Sarah Palin’s bid for a political comeback on Wednesday.
State elections officials are set to tabulate the results of its ranked choice ballots at 8 p.m. ET.
Those results will decide the outcome of the race for Alaska’s at-large House seat, as well as a Senate race in which moderate Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski has faced an intra-party challenge from Kelly Tshibaka, a conservative backed by former President Donald Trump.
In Alaska, voters in 2020 approved a switch to a ranked choice voting system. It is in place in 2022 for the first time.
Under the new system, Alaska holds open primaries and voters cast ballots for one candidate of any party, and the top four finishers advance. In the general election, voters rank those four candidates, from their first choice to their fourth choice.
If no candidate tops 50% of the first choice votes, the state then tabulates ranked choice results – dropping the last-place finisher and shifting those votes to voters’ second choices. If, after one round of tabulation, there is still no winner, the third-place finisher is dropped and the same vote-shifting process takes place.
The Alaska governor’s race could avoid ranked choice tabulation entirely. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who is seeking a second term, currently has 50.3% of the vote – on track to narrowly top the 50% threshold necessary to win outright. However, Wednesday is the deadline for overseas votes to be counted – so additional votes could still shift the race’s margins. Democrat Les Gara is currently in second place with 24.2% of the vote, while independent former Gov. Bill Walker is third with 20.7%.
In the House and Senate races, the incumbents, Peltola and Murkowski, are heavily favored.
Peltola did not cross the 50% threshold, but currently has a clear lead with 48.7% of the vote. The next two spots are split between two high-profile Republicans: Palin, who is attempting a political comeback 13 years after she was the GOP’s vice presidential nominee, and Nick Begich III, a Republican member of Alaska’s most prominent Democratic political family.
Palin received 25.8% of the state’s first-place votes, while Begich received 23.4%. A fourth-place candidate, Libertarian Chris Bye, received 1.7% of the vote.
Peltola first won the House seat when a similar scenario played out in the August special election to fill the remaining months of the term of the late Rep. Don Young, a Republican who died in March after representing Alaska in the House for 49 years.
Offering herself as a supporter of abortion rights and a salmon fishing advocate, Peltola emerged as the victor in the August special election after receiving just 40% of the first-place votes. This time, she has a larger share, while Palin’s and Begich’s support has shrunk.
The House race has showcased the unusual alliances in Alaska politics. Though Peltola is a Democrat, she is also close with Palin – whose tenure as governor overlapped with Peltola’s time as a state lawmaker in Juneau. The two have warmly praised each other. Palin criticized the ranked choice voting system and asked voters to “rank the red” – listing the Republican candidates as their first and second choices. But she never took aim at Peltola in personal terms.
In the Senate race, Murkowski and Tshibaka have a similar share of first place votes: Murkowski had 43.3% support, while Tshibaka had 42.7%.
However, the third-place finisher with 10.3% support was Democrat Patricia Chesbro. It’s widely expected that voters who preferred Chesbro would rank the more moderate Murkowski above the Trump-aligned Tshibaka. Fourth-place Buzz Kelley, a Republican, earned 2.9% of the first-place votes despite suspending his campaign in September and backing Tshibaka.