Politics

Alaskans head to the polls in special election to determine new U.S. House member

Early Voting

Alaskans will head to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in the state’s special U.S. House election and several primary races seen as a referendum on former President Donald Trump’s sway.

One side of the ballot will feature the special U.S. House election to replace longtime Rep. Don Young, who died unexpectedly in March after 49 years in office. It is the first where voters can rank all three candidates on the ballot, after Alaska voters narrowly approved a ballot measure in 2020 implementing new voting rules.

On the other side of the ballot are the pick-one primary races in the regular U.S. House race for the term beginning in January, the U.S. Senate race, the governor’s race and 59 state legislative races.

Polling places will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Special U.S. House election

The candidates in the special U.S. House race are Republican Sarah Palin, who has relied on her fame and a Trump endorsement in her first run for office since quitting the governor’s seat midterm in 2009; Republican Nick Begich, the grandson of Alaska’s former congressman who disappeared in a plane crash in 1972; and Democrat Mary Peltola, a Yup’ik former state lawmaker touting her experience in fishery management and her position as the only candidate on the ballot who supports abortion access.

[Alaska’s first ranked choice election is Tuesday. Here’s what to expect.]

The three emerged from a crowded primary field of 48 candidates — Palin had 27% of the vote in the June special election, Begich had 19%, and Peltola had 10%. Left-leaning independent Al Gross dropped out of the race after coming in third with 12% of the vote.

Peltola and Begich appeared Monday in a candidate forum hosted by ConocoPhillips, and were both expected to host gatherings Tuesday evening as results rolled in. Palin, meanwhile, was absent from the forum and did not have any publicly advertised campaign events on election day.

Trump Rally

Begich spent the evening before election day at a fundraiser in the Wasilla home of Jim and Faye Palin, the father and stepmother of Sarah Palin’s ex-husband, Todd Palin. The event drew dozens of Begich supporters, including several Mat-Su state lawmakers.

With one Democrat and two Republicans on the ballot, the fate of the election rests on the question of how many voters rank more than one candidate. Peltola is expected to emerge with the largest share of first-choice vote, with the Republican vote split between Begich and Palin. Political polling showed Begich and Palin in a tight race for second place, and it remains unclear how many of their voters will rank the other one second. The Alaska Republican Party has run a “rank-the-red” campaign to encourage GOP voters to rank all Republicans on the ballot, but both Palin and Begich have made increasingly negative comments about each other as the campaign has progressed.

[2022 Alaska election guide: Q&As with candidates for U.S. House, U.S. Senate and governor]

Palin has been largely absent from the public eye in the days leading up to the election. She appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas earlier this month and has not held in-person campaign events in Alaska since then. Her campaign manager, Kris Perry, has not responded to calls or text messages from the Daily News in over a week. On social media, she has attacked Begich as a RINO — so-called Republican in name only — for admitting he supported his Democratic uncle Mark Begich in his runs for U.S. Senate, and for voting for Democrat Ethan Berkowitz in an Anchorage mayoral race. She has also attacked ranked choice voting, calling it “convoluted.” Begich too has attacked Palin. In a recent ad, his campaign claimed Palin “left Alaska to be a celebrity.”

In order to win the ranked choice election, a candidate must get over 50% of the overall share of the votes. If none crosses that threshold — as is expected in Tuesday’s election — then the last-place finisher is eliminated and their second-place votes will be counted.

Early Voting

Also in the running are six certified write-in candidates, among them Republican Tara Sweeney, who served in the Interior Department under Trump and finished fifth in the June special primary with nearly 6% of the vote. Her name was not added to the ballot after third-place finisher Gross dropped out, but she registered as a write-in at the request of her supporters, she said in a statement last week.

Other write-in candidates are Libertarian Chris Bye, American Independent Party member Robert Ornelas, Democrat Thomas Ernest, nonpartisan Lady Donna Dutchess and nonpartisan Sherry Strizak.

Election officials say that write-in candidates will only be counted if all together they emerge as the top vote-getters or a close second. Otherwise, the second choice will be counted for voters who selected a write-in as their top choice.

The winner in the special U.S. House race won’t be known until at least Aug. 31. That is the last day the Division of Elections will accept by-mail ballots. All ballots must be counted before they run the tabulation that will determine the winner.

In the primary races, the top-four vote getters will advance to the November general election. In all but one of the 59 legislative races, there are four or fewer candidates, meaning all but one will advance to the November ballot.

[Coverage of Alaska’s 2022 congressional elections]

In the U.S. House primary, there are 22 candidates, including Palin, Begich, and Peltola and Sweeney, who are expected to be the frontrunners.

Other U.S. House candidates include Republican Jay Armstrong, nonpartisan Gregg Brelsford, Libertarian Chris Bye, nonpartisan Lady Donna Dutchess, nonpartisan Ted Heintz, nonpartisan David Hughes, nonpartisan Davis LeBlanc, Republican Bob Lyons, nonpartisan Sherry Mettler, Libertarian J.R. Myers, American Independent Party Member Robert Ornelas, nonpartisan Silvio Pellegrini, nonpartisan Andrew Phelps, Republican Randy Purham, Republican Brad Snowden, nonpartisan Sherry Strizak, Republican Denise Williams and nonpartisan Tremayne Wilson.

Kelly Tshibaka, Senate, candidate, politics, election
Pat Chesboro, Senate, campaign, politics

In the U.S. Senate race, moderate GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski faces a challenge from Trump-backed Republican Kelly Tshibaka, a former commissioner in the Department of Administration. Murkowski is one of seven Senate Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and the only one among them who is up for reelection this year. Both Murkowski and Tshibaka are expected to advance to the November general election, along with Democrat Pat Chesbro, a retired educator who has the backing of the Alaska Democratic Party. It remains unclear who of the remaining 16 candidates on the primary ballot will be fourth to advance to the general election.

Murkowski’s staff have downplayed the importance of the primary, comparing it to a qualifying round in the Olympics and saying their sights are already set on building coalitions ahead of the November election. Tshibaka has been more direct about the significance of the Tuesday primary, saying that if she outperforms Murkowski, she views it as “significant for the nation.”

Other Senate candidates include Democrat Edgar Blatchford, nonpartisan Dave Darden, Alaska Independence Party member Dustin Darden, nonpartisan Shoshana Gungurstein, nonpartisan Sid Hill, nonpartisan Jeremy Keller, Republican Buzz Kelley, nonpartisan Huhnkie Lee, Republican Al Merrill, Republican Pat Nolin, Republican John Schiess, Republican Kendall Shorkey, Republican Karl Speights, Alaska Independence Party member Joe Stephens, Democrat Ivan Taylor, and Libertarian Sean Thorne.

In the governor’s race, incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy is running along with lieutenant governor candidate Nancy Dahlstrom, a former commissioner of the Department of Corrections. Former Gov. Bill Walker is running as an independent with running mate Heidi Drygas, a former commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Democratic former lawmaker Les Gara is running with lieutenant governor candidate Jessica Cook, an educator. The three tickets are expected to advance from a field of 10, along with one of two challenging Dunleavy from the right: state lawmaker Christopher Kurka or Kenai Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce.

Other gubernatorial candidates in the race are Republican David Haeg, Alaska Independence Party member John Wayne Howe, nonpartisan William Nemec, Republican Bruce Walden and Libertarian Billy Toien.

New polling places

A once-a-decade redistricting process has shuffled polling places, and new locations were only published recently by the Division of Elections. Several candidates sent out mailers to voters ahead of the election with out-of-date polling location information, including Anchorage legislative candidates Forrest Dunbar, Alyse Galvin and Andy Josephson.

Early Voting

Campaign consultants with Ship Creek Group, a firm providing services to the three candidates, said Monday that once they realized that some polling locations were incorrect they launched efforts by phone, text and in-person to inform the impacted voters, which number a few thousand.

The Alaska Division of Elections sent all registered voters up-to-date voting information, including polling locations. Two polling locations have since been updated: Ursa Major Elementary School on JBER has been replaced with Ursa Minor Elementary due to repairs in the school; and Brevig Mission in Western Alaska has been replaced with the Multi-Purpose Building on Clarence Road due to water and sewer pipe issues.

Updated polling locations can be found on the Division of Elections website. Voters can also look up their polling place online at myvoterinformation.alaska.gov.

Unlike the June special primary, this election is not conducted by-mail, meaning that unless voters submitted an absentee ballot request, they will not receive one by mail. Election officials have urged voters casting absentee ballots by mail on election day to drop them off in person at a post office and request that they be hand canceled. Ballots must be postmarked by election day to be counted. Absentee ballots can also be dropped off at in-person voting locations through election day.

Unofficial results will begin to roll in once voting ends, with first returns expected around 9 p.m. and additional rounds of ballot counting throughout the night. Still, final results won’t be certified until Sept. 2, after all the last ballots are received on the Aug. 31 deadline.

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Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The Associated Press and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at isamuels@adn.com.

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