Peltola again grows her lead, but final outcome in Alaska’s U.S. House race is days away
By Iris Samuels
The Alaska Division of Elections tallied votes on Friday in the state’s August election, but results in the special U.S. House race won’t be final for days.
With a new ballot count released Friday evening, more than 190,000 votes have been cast and turnout has exceeded 32% — the highest August election turnout in Alaska since 2014, when turnout was 39%. Results won’t be official until they are reviewed and certified by the state board of elections early next month.
In the special U.S. House race, which marked the state’s first ranked choice election under a new voting system, Democrat Mary Peltola grew her lead and has 39.6% of the first-choice votes counted so far. Peltola is almost nine points ahead of Republican Sarah Palin, who has 30.9% of first-choice votes. Republican Nick Begich III trails with 27.8%. Write-in candidates have 1.6%. The winner of the race will be determined by second-choice votes, which won’t be tallied until Aug. 31, the deadline for election officials to receive overseas ballots in the special election.
The third-place finisher — likely Begich — will be eliminated from the race, and those votes will be redistributed to whoever is ranked second on those ballots. That means the winner will likely be determined by the number of Begich supporters who ranked Palin second. If Palin receives enough second-choice votes from Begich supporters, she can overtake Peltola to become Alaska’s new U.S. House member.
The special U.S. House election, prompted by the death of longtime Rep. Don Young in March, will determine who will serve out the last four months of Young’s term. Peltola, Palin and Begich are also in the running for the regular November election that will determine who will hold that seat for the full two-year term that begins in January.
Under Alaska’s new election laws, the top four vote-getters in the open primary will advance to the November election. Friday’s vote tally was the final unofficial count for primary races before results will be certified Sept. 2. Friday was the deadline for the Division of Election to accept primary ballot votes, but they will continue to count special general election votes from overseas voters until Aug. 31.
In the U.S. House primary, Peltola has 36.8% of votes, Palin has 30.2% and Begich has 26.2%. Fourth place finisher is Republican Tara Sweeney with 3.7% of votes, but she announced this week she would drop out of the race, citing no “path to victory” and fundraising challenges. That means the fifth-place finisher will be on the November ballot as long as Sweeney submits the necessary paperwork to withdraw by Sept. 5. Currently in fifth is Libertarian Chris Bye with 0.6% of votes.
In the U.S. Senate primary, incumbent GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski has solidified her lead over Republican challenger Kelly Tshibaka, who has the backing of former President Donald Trump. Murkowski has 45% of votes and Tshibaka has 38.6%. Rounding out the November ballot will be Democrat Pat Chesbro, who has 6.8% of votes, and Republican Buzz Kelley, who is in fourth with 2.1%.
In the governor race, Republican incumbent Mike Dunleavy is comfortably ahead of challengers with 40.4% of votes. Democratic former lawmaker Les Gara is in second with 23%. Independent former Gov. Bill Walker is in close third with 22.8%. In fourth is Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce with 6.6%.
Also on the primary ballots were 59 state legislative races. All but one of those race had four or fewer candidates, meaning all but one legislative candidate can advance to the general election. Several candidates already said they would drop out after poor showings in the primary. Hanging in the balance with legislative races is the future makeup of the state House and Senate, with many incumbent legislators choosing not to run for reelection or facing formidable challengers.
With virtually all legislative candidates guaranteed to advance from the primary election to the general, some political observers looked at results as a way to gauge race competitiveness. And in some cases, the results indicate a nail-biter. In one Anchorage House District, Democratic incumbent Rep. Andy Josephson is in a dead heat against Republican challenger Kathy Henslee. They each had precisely 1,781 votes as of Friday’s tally.
The state board of elections began its work certifying the election results Thursday. Election workers also began a hand count of randomly selected precincts as required by state law. Election workers will count only first-choice votes in the hand count of special general election ballots, according to spokesperson Tiffany Montemayor.