Note: This story was updated at 12:30 am Wednesday, Aug. 17
In the 11:53 pm Tuesday update from the Division of Elections, it appears that Democrat Mary Peltola has the leading position for the temporary seat in Congress to represent Alaska. This is not a surprise to political analysts.
Peltola, from rural Bethel, may appear as the leader for several days to come, but the story doesn’t end with tonight’s count, due to the peculiarities of ranked choice voting.
With 138,976 votes counted, Peltola has 52,795 votes, with Republican Sarah Palin coming in second, with 45,542 votes. Republican Nick Begich was trailing with 40,639 votes.
The special election is a ranked choice affair, which means that if Nick Begich remains in third place, he would be eliminated. Some of his voters will have ranked either Palin or Peltola as a second choice, and that person will be awarded those votes, allowing either Palin or Peltola to reach the 50+1 votes needed to win the seat. The winner fills out the remaining term of the late Congressman Don Young.
Some 277 of 402 precincts have been counted. What has not yet been tallied are the absentee ballots. The Begich campaign did a strong absentee ballot chase program, meaning that letters went out to people who had requested an absentee ballot. There are over 26,000 of those absentee votes outstanding, as well as early vote ballots; none have been counting. He may over-perform in that voter group, which trends conservative. There are also a lot of Anchorage votes not counted, and Begich did well in the Anchorage area.
In the race for the two-year seat for Congress, which will start in January, there are 22 people on the ballot, and so the numbers are more dispersed. Four people from this race will head to the November ballot for a final decision from voters. For this race, Republican Tara Sweeney has made the top four, with a little more than 3% of the vote:
- Peltola: 49,583
- Palin: 45,109
- Begich: 38,679
- Sweeney: 4,866
When Nov. 8 comes along, Alaskans will go through the exercise they just went through for the temporary congressional seat. That is, they will rank the Democrat — Peltola, and the three Republicans — Palin, Begich, and Sweeney.