Democrat Mary Peltola, a former state representative, will be the first Alaska Native in Congress after she won a special election with GOP candidates Nick Begich and former Governor Sarah Palin, NBC News projects.
Peltola, the executive director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, served 10 years in the state legislature and campaigned as “Alaska’s best chance to stop an extremist from winning.”
She finished fourth in a packed, unbiased primary in June, as 48 candidates competed for one of four places on the August 16 special election. But heading into Wednesday’s final table, Peltola led the pack.
The special election was the state’s first test of elective voting, which was conducted following a 2020 ballot measure. The same system will be used in November.
Voters cast their votes more than two weeks ago to determine who will serve the last four months of Young’s term after he died in March at age 88.
No candidate won more than 50% of the vote in the August 16 election, leading to re-elections under the new system, in which voters ranked candidates in order of preference.
Based on the ranked choice system, the candidate in last place is eliminated and the votes are redistributed among the remaining candidates based on the ranked preferences of the voters. The rounds continue until one of the two remaining candidates with the most votes wins.
The elimination process did not begin until Wednesday, the last day election officials could receive absentee ballots.
Begich, Palin and Peltola will also compete in November to determine who will serve a full two-year term in the House. The three candidates received the most votes in the primary. A fourth qualifier, the independent Al Gross, later dropped out of the race.
In a statement following her loss, Palin called the rankings a “mistake” for Alaska.
“Ranked-choice voting was sold as the way to make elections more closely reflect the will of the people. As Alaska—and America—now sees, the exact opposite is true,” she said. “While we’re disappointed with this outcome, Alaskans know I’ll be the last to ever back out. I’m going to reload instead.”
Begich congratulated Peltola on Wednesday and went after Palin, saying she “can’t win a statewide race because her unfavorable rating is so high.”
“The biggest lesson from the 2022 general election is that the ranking vote showed that a vote for Sarah Palin is really a vote for Mary Peltola. Palin just doesn’t have enough support from the Alaskans to make a election,” Begich said in a statement. “As we look forward to the November election, I will work hard to earn the votes of Alaskans across the state.”