By Iris Samuels
Democrat Mary Peltola solidified her lead in first-place votes ahead of Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III, after the Alaska Division of Elections counted additional ballots on Tuesday. But results from Alaska’s special U.S. House race won’t be known until Aug. 31, when the division is expected to tally second-place votes and tabulations in the state’s first ranked choice election.
The Alaska Division of Elections counted on Tuesday additional ballots from the special U.S. House general election and primary elections held Aug. 16. So far, the division has counted nearly 180,000 ballots, for a turnout rate of almost 30%. Election officials are expected to count more ballots later this week.
A final count isn’t expected until Aug. 31, the deadline for the division to receive ballots from overseas voters. Only then will the division tally second-place votes and determine the winner in the special U.S. House race that will decide who will complete the last four months of Rep. Don Young’s term. Young died in March.
Peltola, a Democratic former lawmaker who would be the first Alaska Native elected to Congress, grew her lead with by-mail and absentee ballots counted Tuesday, and has 38.9% of first-place votes. Palin, a former governor who is running for elected office for the first time since her unsuccessful vice presidential bid in 2008, has 31.4% of the vote. Begich, a businessman and grandson of Alaska’s former U.S. Rep. Nick Begich Sr., is trailing with 28.2% of the vote. Write-in candidates got 1.5% of the votes counted so far.
Begich is unlikely to make up the difference to overtake Palin for second place. That means the race will likely be between Peltola and Palin, and will be determined by the number of Begich supporters who ranked Palin second on their ballots. Peltola currently has a seven-point lead over Palin in first-place votes and mail-in ballots count continue to skew in favor of the Democrat, but Palin — whose campaign was buoyed by her fame and an endorsement from former President Donald Trump — is still a major contender, thanks to the second-place votes she will likely get from some Begich supporters.
In the regular U.S. House primary that will determine the four candidates to advance to the November general election, Peltola leads with 36.1% of the votes counted so far. Palin has 30.7% and Begich has 26.5%. Republican Tara Sweeney is in fourth with 3.7% of the vote, but she announced Tuesday that she would withdraw from the race, likely giving the fifth-place finisher the last slot on the general election ballot. Libertarian Chris Bye is in fifth with 0.6% of votes counted as of Tuesday evening.
In the U.S. Senate race, incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski solidified her lead over Trump-backed opponent Kelly Tshibaka. Murkowski now has 44.6% of the votes, compared to Tshibaka’s 39.3%. The moderate incumbent’s lead over the right-wing challenger has grown as the division has counted mail-in and absentee ballots. Rounding out the top four candidates set to advance to the November general election are Democrat Pat Chesbro, with 6.6% of the votes counted so far, and Republican Buzz Kelley with 2.2%.
In the governor’s race, incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy is comfortably ahead with 41% of the votes counted so far. Democratic former lawmaker Les Gara and independent former Gov. Bill Walker are in a dead heat for second, with 22.6% and 22.4% of the vote, respectively. Republican Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce is in fourth with 6.8%.