Alaskans went to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in the state’s first ever ranked choice election: the special election to fill our lone seat in Congress for the rest of the year. It was also a primary election for U.S. Senate and the next full term in Congress.
Alaska Public Media Washington D.C. correspondent Liz Ruskin provides some post-election analysis on Alaska News Nightly.
Casey Grove: Liz, the big race everyone was watching was the special election — again, that’s the one to fill the remaining months of Congressman Don Young’s term — Democrat Mary Peltola was the top vote-getter. But does she actually have a chance at winning the seat?
Liz Ruskin: Yeah, she does, but the real story, if you ask me, is that Sarah Palin is ahead of Nick Begich. If that order holds, it is his ballots that would be redistributed. His voters’ second-rankings — they’re not all going to go to his fellow Republican, but a lot of them are likely to go to Palin. Peltola is now 6 percentage points ahead of Palin. It’s not clear that’s enough of a lead to overcome those second votes.
Now, overnight Tuesday, Peltola gained a tiny bit, she crested 38% while Palin and Begich went down a little bit. But we’re talking a fraction of a percentage point. If that trend continues with the late arriving ballots, you know, it might be close between Peltola and Palin.
Casey Grove: So is it actually clear at this point that Begich finished 3rd and is really out of the running?
Liz Ruskin: Oh, not at all. He’s about 3 points behind Palin — again, that gap closed a tiny bit overnight — so it’s possible that Palin finishes third and it’s her second rankings that would get redistributed. But the way things are looking now, Sarah Palin is probably on track to be Alaska’s next member of Congress. And, you know, ranked-choice voting was supposed to be for consensus candidates, and moderates, and instead, wouldn’t it be ironic if RCV is what brings us to Congresswoman Sarah Palin?
Casey Grove: So, again, that’s for the short-term, just until the end of this year. Is it possible that one candidate wins the special U.S. House race and another wins the general November election for the next term?
Liz Ruskin: Well, the latest I saw, shows Murkowski at 44% and Tshibaka at just under 40%. So, you know, that is a gap. Let’s remember though, that Tuesday was primary for U.S. Senate. Murkowski, Tshibaka, along with Democrat Pat Chesbro — who got 6% — and a fourth candidate, are likely to go on to the November ballot. So, that gap between those two — it’s more of an indicator than a determinative factor.
Casey Grove: Well, tell me about that fourth candidate because that was kind of a mystery, as far as who is going to be joining Murkowski, Tshibaka and Chesbro on the general ballot.
Liz Ruskin: Yeah, it’s somebody named Buzz Kelley. We don’t know much about him. He’s a Republican. I have to wonder if he didn’t get some votes because his last name is “Kelley” and Tshibaka’s campaign signs said “Kelley for Alaska”. He got about 3,400 ballots — not a ton, but, you know, that might’ve happened.
Casey Grove: So he’ll be moving on. But when will we know who wins the special election for U.S. House? When will we find out?
Liz Ruskin: Not until the end of the month — and that’s because, by state law, mailed ballots in the general have 15 days to arrive at the Division of Elections. Normally we don’t really pay much attention to that, because it’s pretty clear a few days after the election who’s won. But in this case, the division will not determine who finished 3rd until then, and that’s when they start the redistribution based on elimination rounds.