By the time polls closed in Alaska on Tuesday's elections, it was already the wee morning hours of Wednesday in Washington, D.C. where the race's three candidates — two Republicans and one Democrat — campaigned for a shot at heading to serve out the remaining months of late Rep. Don Young's term.
But those looking for a quick winner were disappointed to see that, even after a majority of ballots were counted by about 2:00 a.m. ET on Wednesday, there was a Democrat in the lead and no winner declared. Confused or frustrated election watchers keyed in on former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's return to electoral politics can blame the Last Frontier's first time using a new ranked-choice election system that was narrowly approved by voters in 2020.
Under their new system, there's no winner until someone secures 50 percent of the vote — and no one has yet. As things stand Wednesday morning, Democrat Mary Peltola has the lead with 38.38 percent, followed by Palin with 32.59 percent and Republican Nick Begich in third with 29.03 percent.
Since none of the contenders made it past the 50 percent threshold for victory, things move from the first-choice round to the second round. The last-place finisher, Begich, will be eliminated from contention and his votes will be reallocated to the second-choice candidates picked by those who put him first.
But the ranked-choice votes won't be tabulated until August 31, enough time for all absentee ballots to be accepted and tabulated, shortly before Alaska election officials' target date of September 2 for certifying the special election's results.
In theory, Begich — endorsed by the state GOP — and Palin — endorsed by former President Donald Trump — split Alaska's GOP vote, hence Peltola's lead in round one. Again, in theory, most Republicans who preferred Begich would have put the other Republican in the race, Palin, as their second choice. That should hand the former VP candidate a significant percentage boost from previous Begich ballots. Not to belabor the point, but second-choice votes should *in theory* be enough to put Palin past the 50 percent mark to achieve victory.
Meanwhile, as Alaskans were voting for the special U.S. House general election they were also voting for the regular primary for the same seat. Again, under Alaska's new voting system, it's an all-party primary where voters select just one candidate in the running from all parties with the top four vote-getters moving on to the regular general election ballot in November — where the ranked-choice system applies once more.
In the primary race, there's more conclusive results that show a rematch of this week's election is ahead in less than three months when Mary Peltola, Sarah Palin, Nick Begich, and a fourth still to be determined by final vote totals will again face voters in a general election.