Mary Peltola will be the first Alaska Native person in Congress

Mary Peltola has been fishing on the Kuskokwim since she was a child. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Democrat Mary Peltola has won election to the U.S. House, beating Republican Sarah Palin to fill the remainder of the late Congressman Don Young’s term in office.

“I feel like I need to catch my breath for a minute,” Peltola said, speaking to supporters at an office in downtown Anchorage after the results were tallied.

Peltola, who surpassed Palin by three percentage points, will be the first Alaska Native person to serve in Congress.

“I will have that distinction,” Peltola said. “But I think what’s most important is that I’m Alaskan and being sent to represent all Alaskans.”

The unofficial results of Alaska’s first ranked choice election were announced Wednesday afternoon on a livestream from the Division of Elections office in Juneau.

Peltola, who represented Bethel in the state House for a decade, was ahead of former Republican Gov. Sarah Palin by almost 9 percentage points when only first-choice ballots were counted.

Republican candidate Nick Begich III finished third and was eliminated on Wednesday as the ranked choice tabulation began. Just over half of his voters had marked Palin as their second choice, 29% of them selected Peltola and 21% were considered “exhausted.” That means the voter either did not mark a second-choice candidate or ranked a write-in candidate second and ranked no third candidate.

Peltola won with 51.5% of the vote, to Palin’s 48.5%.

Mary Peltola hugs her husband
Mary Peltola hugs her husband, Gene “Buzzy” Peltola, as results are tallied on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. (Photo by Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

At her campaign headquarters in Anchorage on Wednesday, Palin said she felt “more fired up than ever.”

“We’ve only just begun to fight for Alaska I feel like,” she said. “This is just, you know, the call to arms, you guys.”

In a speech to supporters, Palin questioned election integrity and again criticized the state’s new ranked choice voting system. She later told reporters she “does not anticipate” challenging the results of the election in court.

Sarah Palin in front of some balloons
Sarah Palin at her Anchorage campaign headquarters on Wednesday. (Valerie Kern/Alaska Public Media)

Palin and Peltola have been friends since their days as lawmakers in Juneau. Despite the loss, Palin had only good things to say about her opponent Wednesday evening.

“She’s a beautiful soul. She’s a great mother, has a heart for Alaska. We just represent very, very polarizing views.”

The vote will be certified on Friday. Peltola will likely be sworn in the week of Sept. 12, when the House reconvenes after its summer recess. The Speaker of the House could also call a special session just to swear Peltola in early.

Peltola will be in office until at least January, when the term ends. Meanwhile, she, Palin and Begich are campaigning for the next full term, which will be on the November ballot.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that 21% of voters who chose Nick Begich III as their No. 1 candidate did not choose a second-choice candidate. In fact, those voters either did not mark a second-choice candidate or ranked a write-in candidate second and ranked no third candidate.

Alaska Public Media

Alaska Public Media is our partner station in Anchorage. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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