Mary Peltola, an ex-Alaska state representative, defeated Sarah Palin a former governor of that state, and former vice president candidate, for an open House spot in a special raceoff election.
Peltola becomes the first woman ever to win Alaska’s sole seat in the House of Representatives. She’s also the first Alaskan Native (Yup’ik) to be elected to the United States Congress from that state, and the first Democrat to win the House seat since Alaska became a state.
Her win is also remarkable from a political standpoint. The Republican Palin was defeated by Peltola by around 3 percentage pointsIn a state that former President Donald Trump won by 10 points in the 2020 presidential election. Trump had endorsed Palin to fill the vacant seat that was left vacant by the death of Don Young.
Peltola will serve out the remainder of Young’s term through January of next year. She will then be on the ballot for the November midterms to reelect the seat. There she will face Palin again and Nick Begich, a Republican who was also a candidate in that special election.
The race was notable for being the first congressional race in the state to use Alaska’s newly implemented ranked choice voting system. The system was approved by voters in a referendum vote that took place during the 2020 elections.
Per the system’s rulesAll candidates, regardless their party affiliation, can run in the primary race. The top four candidates advance to the general election round. Voters then rank their choices again. If a majority isn’t attained by any candidate in the first round, the second-choice picks with the least amount of votes are added to the counts of the other candidates and the process is repeated until one candidate attains a majority.
Peltola received 39.7 percent of the vote in the first roundThe result was Palin getting 30.9 percent and Begich 27,8 percent. In the final round, with Begich removed and his voters’ second picks considered, Peltola reached the majority threshold, receiving 51.5 percent of the vote to Palin’s 48.5 percent.
“Thank you to all Alaskans who have put their faith in me as the first woman in Alaska’s history to represent our state in the House of Representatives,” Peltola said in a post-election tweet on Wednesday night. “Tonight, we’ve shown that we can win as a campaign that is pro-choice, pro-fish, pro-worker, and pro-Alaska.”
Many on the right blamed the ranked choice voting system for Palin’s defeat. (Palin herself described the system as too confusing for voters.) On Trump’s social media site Truth Social, a plethora of users suggested, without any evidence for their claims, that the election was fraudulent. Mainstream Republicans also hints that something sinister has occurred, and that Democrats have somehow manipulated the system that Alaskans voted to make it law two years back.
“60% of Alaska voters voted for a Republican, but thanks to a convoluted process and ballot exhaustion — which disenfranchises voters — a Democrat ‘won,’” wrote Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas).
Without going into too much detail, Cotton also described ranked choice voting as a “scam to rig elections.”
However, there are issues with his assessments. If the old voting system had been in place, Peltola would still have won against Begich and Palin, and would likely have won even if she were running against Palin alone. The outcome of the vote didn’t mean Republicans were “disenfranchised” either — it merely meant that a significant portion of Begich’s supporters preferred to cross over to support the Democratic candidate rather than choose the Republican Palin as their second choice.
Many Twitter users were quick to respond to Cotton’s baseless claim, pointing out that the Electoral College — a system the senator still supports for choosing the president — is actually one that disenfranchises voters.
“Actually, Tom Cotton, the Electoral College is the scam that rigs elections,” author Keith Boykin responded. “Democrats have won the popular vote in 7 of the last 8 presidential elections, but because of the electoral college, Republicans got to be president twice in 20 years against the will of the people.”
Rob Richie, CEO of FairVote, an organization that promotes ranked choice voting across the country, celebrated the use of ranked choice voting in Alaska’s congressional election, adding that, in general, most voters by and large find the process to be an easy one.
“Ranked choice voting gave Alaskans more choice and competition in this contest,” Richie said in a statement. “Turnout was the third-highest in Alaska primary history and voters handled the ballot well, with 85 percent of voters reporting that ranking candidates was simple.”