Sarah Palin projected to lose

All three incumbents likely clinched final victory in Alaska’s statewide elections Friday, as the Alaska Division of Elections updated results with thousands of additional absentee, questioned and early ballots from this fall’s general election.

Final unofficial results will not be available until 4 p.m. Wednesday, when the division implements the state’s new ranked choice sorting system, but voting trends have made the results clear in most races.

With 264,994 votes counted, incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy had 50.3% of the vote for governor, well above his leading challenger, Democratic candidate Les Gara, who had 24.2%. Independent candidate Bill Walker had 20.7% and Republican challenger Charlie Pierce had 4.5%.

Friday was the deadline for absentee ballots sent from within the United States to arrive and be counted. Ballots are counted by the elections division’s five regional offices, and by the end of the day Friday, most offices had finished counting all ballots that had arrived through Wednesday.

A few hundred ballots sent from international destinations could be added to the count if they arrive by Nov. 23, but it appears all but certain that the remaining ballots are too few to alter the governor’s race, where Dunleavy has a margin large enough that ranked choice sorting will not take place.

In races where no candidate earns at least 50% of the vote, the lowest finisher is eliminated, and voters who supported that person have their votes redistributed to their second choices. That process continues until only two candidates are left, and the person with the most votes wins.

In the U.S. Senate and U.S. House races, no candidate is expected to finish with more than 50% of the vote.

For U.S. House, Democratic incumbent Mary Peltola had 48.7% of the vote, ahead of Republican challengers Sarah Palin (25.8%) and Nick Begich (23.4%) and Libertarian challenger Chris Bye (1.7%).

While the combined totals of Palin and Begich would surpass Peltola’s tally, a special election in August showed the number of Begich voters willing to support Palin with second-choice votes was too small for her to overtake Peltola. Pre-election opinion polling showed little change in opinions since August.

In the race for U.S. Senate, incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski led all challengers with 43.3%. Her main challenger, Republican Kelly Tshibaka, led on Election Day, but Murkowski erased that deficit by the end of the day Friday with late-counted absentee and early votes. By the end of the day Friday, Tshibaka had 42.7%, trailing by 1,658 votes out of 259,747 cast in the race.

When ranked choice voting begins, Murkowski is expected to receive the majority of the second-choice votes cast by supporters of the third-place finisher, Democratic candidate Patricia Chesbro (10.4%). Many supporters of the fourth-place finisher, Republican Buzz Kelley (2.9%), are expected to back Tshibaka, but those votes are not expected to be sufficient for Tshibaka to win.

Legislative races

Of the 59 races on the ballot for the state House and Senate, nine were unresolved Friday night, including two in the state Senate and seven in the state House.

Complete tossups

In South Anchorage, former Republican Senate President Cathy Giessel narrowly leads a three-way race that also features incumbent Republican Sen. Roger Holland and Democratic candidate Roselynn Cacy.

Giessel had 33.6% of the vote, Holland 33.1% and Cacy 32.9% as of Friday night. Elections officials said they had counted all early votes, questioned ballots and absentee ballots received through Wednesday, Nov. 16.

A relative handful of ballots remain uncounted in the race, which will be decided when elections officials calculate ranked choice sorting on Nov. 23.

Democrats and moderate Republicans seeking to create a coalition majority in the Senate have said they are waiting on the results of Giessel’s race.

“Because of that, there’s really not been a lot of definitive movement on (Senate organization),” said Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, and the only legislator not on this year’s ballot.

In the state House, two Anchorage races and one in the Mat-Su had no likely winner.

For the district surrounding the Alaska Zoo, nonpartisan candidate Walter Featherly has 45.5% of the vote, followed by Republicans Julie Coulombe (38.7%) and Ross Bieling (15.4%). Ranked choice voting will decide the winner of the race; if sufficient Bieling supporters chose Coulombe as a second choice, she will overtake Featherly.

In the Taku-Campbell district around Campbell Lake, Democratic candidate Denny Wells has 46.6% of the vote, leading incumbent Republican Rep. Tom McKay, who has 38.8% of the vote. A third Republican has 14.1% of the vote. Ranked choice sorting will result in many of those votes going to McKay.

In the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, four Republicans are competing for a newly redrawn Wasilla district. Republican Jesse Sumner has 36.7% of the vote, but three other Republicans have substantial totals, and the race will be decided with Wednesday’s ranked choice sorting.

Likely winners

In addition to the four tossup races, there are five races that are unresolved but have likely winners based on voting patterns.

In the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, incumbent Republican Sen. David Wilson has 44.5% of the vote in his race for re-election, but Republican challenger Stephen Wright has 29% of the vote and could overtake Wilson if he receives enough second-choice votes when fellow Republican challenger Scott Clayton (25.3%) is eliminated in ranked choice sorting.In the House district covering Anchorage’s Government Hill and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Republican incumbent Rep. David Nelson has 44% of the vote, ahead of Democratic challengers Cliff Groh (35.3%) and Lyn Franks (20.3%), but Groh is expected to receive the second-choice votes of most Franks supporters. Those are expected to make Groh the winner.In northeast Anchorage, just south of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Republican Stanley Wright has 50.7% of the vote in a head-to-head race against Democrat Ted Eischeid, who has 48.9%. The difference between the two candidates is just 67 votes, and late-counted absentee ballots have favored Democrats, but there likely are too few ballots remaining to be counted in the district for Eischeid to overtake Wright.In East Anchorage, Democratic candidate Donna Mears has 50.1% of the vote in a head-to-head race against Republican Forrest Wolfe, who has 48.8%. The margin between the two candidates is 152 votes, and late-counted votes have gone in Mears’ favor, but some ballots remain uncounted.In the district around Big Lake, in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, incumbent Republican Rep. Kevin McCabe has 45% of the vote. Republican challenger Doyle Holmes has 34.4% and Democratic challenger Joy Mindiola has 20%. It isn’t clear who — if anyone — Mindiola’s supporters have picked as their second choice.

Legislative victors

The remaining 50 races had clear winners as of Friday night:

Senate races

Senate District A – Incumbent Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, defeated Republican challenger Mike Sheldon, 68.8%-30.5%.

SD B – Incumbent Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, was unopposed.

SD C – Incumbent Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, had 56.2%, defeating two Republican challengers.

SD D – Republican Jesse Bjorkman had 45.8% of the vote in a three-way race also featuring Republican Tuckerman Babcock (41.6%) and nonpartisan candidate Andy Cizek (11.7%), each seeking to replace Republican Senate President Peter Micciche in the northern Kenai Peninsula. Cizek’s supporters are expected to favor Bjorkman with second-choice votes, and Babcock conceded victory to Bjorkman on social media the day after the election.

SD F – Rep. James Kaufman, R-Anchorage (54.5%), defeated Democratic challenger Janice Park (45.3%) in a race to replace Sen. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage.

SD G – Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, won re-election to a midtown Anchorage seat, defeating Republican challenger Marcus Sanders by 13 points.

SD H – Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, conceded defeat to Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, on Friday in a West Anchorage race that was one of the most closely watched Senate races in the state. Claman had 51.9% of the vote to Costello’s 47.8%.

SD I – Democratic candidate Löki Tobin defeated undeclared-party challenger Heather Herndon by 34 points in the race to replace Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage.

SD J – Forrest Dunbar, a Democratic member of the Anchorage Assembly, had just over 50% of the vote in the race for a newly created state Senate district in Anchorage, defeating Democratic challenger and Rep. Geran Tarr (16.7%), and Republican challenger Andrew Satterfield (32.7%).

SD K – Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, won re-election, defeating Republican challenger John Cunningham by 16 points.

SD L – Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River, defeated Rep. Ken McCarty, R-Eagle River, by almost 17 percentage points in the race to replace Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River.

SD M – Senate Majority Leader Shelley Hughes defeated Democratic challenger Jim Cooper by more than 52 points, one of the widest results in the state.

SD O – Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, defeated Republican challenger Doug Massey, 51.8-47%.

SD P – Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, defeated two Republican challengers by earning 51.1% of the vote.

SD Q – Sen. Robb Myers, R-North Pole, was re-elected after earning 62.6% of the vote against a nonpartisan challenger and a member of the Alaskan Independence Party.

SD R – Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, defeated a Republican challenger and an AIP challenger with 56.8% of the vote despite being censured by local Republicans.

SD S – Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel and the longest-serving member of the Alaska Legislature, won another term after receiving 64.6% of the vote.

SD T – Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, was the only legislator not subject to re-election this year. In all 59 other races, redistricting changed the boundaries of the legislative district enough to mandate a new election.

House races

House District 1 – Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, defeated Republican challenger Jeremy Bynum, 52.4-47.3%.

HD 2 – Nonpartisan candidate Rebecca Himschoot defeated Republican Kenny Skaflestad, 58.3-41.4%, in the race to replace Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka.

HD 3 – Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, was unopposed.

HD 4 – Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, won re-election by almost 60 percentage points.

HD 5 – Speaker of the House Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, defeated Republican challenger Benjamin Vincent by more than 22%.

HD 6 – Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, won re-election with 52.1% of the vote against two challengers.

HD 7 – Republican candidate Justin Ruffridge, a pharmacist, defeated Rep. Ron Gillham, 52.6-46.5%.

HD 8 – Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, won re-election unopposed.

HD 9 – Rep. Laddie Shaw, R-Anchorage, defeated Democratic candidate David Schaff, 54.2-45.6%.

HD 10 – Republican Craig Johnson, a former member of the Alaska House, will return to the House after earning 51.5% of the vote in a race against a Libertarian and a Democrat.

HD 12 – Rep. Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage, defeated Republican Jay McDonald, 59-40.1%.

HD 13 – Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, defeated Republican Kathy Henslee by 5% in a race that had been expected to be close. Henslee trailed by just 86 votes after Election Day, but late-counted absentee, early and questioned ballots favored Josephson.

HD 14 – Nonpartisan candidate Alyse Galvin, a two-time candidate for U.S. House, won election to the state House by getting 67% of the vote against Republican Nick Danger.

HD 16 – Democratic candidate Jennie Armstrong had 55% of the vote against Republican Liz Vazquez. Armstrong’s eligibility for office could be questioned in a lawsuit; a judge on Friday dismissed a legal challenge targeting Armstrong but suggested that it could be refiled after the race is certified complete.

HD 17 – Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage defeated Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, by just under 14% after the two Democrats in or near downtown were placed in the same legislative district during the once-per-decade redistricting process. Theirs was the only race where redistricted incumbents, put in the same district, both sought re-election. In all other cases, one of the incumbents dropped out before the election.

HD 19 – Democratic candidate Genevieve Mina defeated fellow Democrat Russell Wyatt by more than 52%.

HD 20 – Democratic candidate Andrew Gray had 54% of the vote in this four-way race that also included two Republicans and a Libertarian.

HD 23 – Jamie Allard, a Republican member of the Anchorage Assembly, won election with 61.5% of the vote in this race that also featured Republican Roger Branson.

HD 24 – Republican Dan Saddler, formerly a member of the state House, will return to the chamber after earning 52.6% of the vote in a three-way race that included Democratic candidate Daryl Nelson and another former Republican legislator, Sharon Jackson.

HD 25 – Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer and one of the longest-serving Republican members of the House, won re-election with almost 78% of the vote in a two-way race that featured another Republican.

HD 26 – House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton won re-election by the widest margin of any race in the state, defeating Libertarian Daniel Stokes by more than 62%.

HD 27 – Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, won re-election with 51.4% of the vote against two Republican challengers. Eastman still faces a legal challenge to his eligibility, and a trial has been set for December. Certification of his victory will remain on hold until the case is resolved.

HD 29 – Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, won re-election by 49%.

HD 31 – Democratic candidate Maxine Dibert had 49.1% of the vote in a race against Republican incumbent Rep. Bart LeBon (29.4%) and Republican Kelly Nash (20.7%). LeBon is not expected to pick up enough second-choice votes from Nash supporters in order to pass Dibert. Nash campaigned aggressively against LeBon and told supporters to not rank him second.

HD 32 – Republican Will Stapp won the race to replace Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, by earning 51.5% of the vote.

HD 33 – Rep. Mike Prax, R-North Pole, ran unopposed for re-election.

HD 34 – Republican Frank Tomaszewski has 49% of the vote against Democratic incumbent Rep. Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks (43.1%). A third Republican candidate is also in the race, and Tomaszewski will earn enough votes in ranked choice calculations to defeat Hopkins.

HD 35 – Democratic candidate Ashley Carrick has 53.5% of the vote in this West Fairbanks district, enough to win a four-way race to replace Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks.

HD 36 – Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, won re-election with 65.4% of the vote in this vast Interior Alaska district.

HD 37 – Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, ran unopposed for re-election.

HD 38 – Democratic candidate Conrad “C.J.” McCormick ran unopposed to replace Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel. A registered write-in challenger received less than 16% of the vote.

HD 39 – Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, won re-election with 51.2% of the vote thanks to late-arriving absentee ballots that leaned in his favor. At one point on Friday, he was ahead of AIP challenger Tyler Ivanoff by just three votes. Exiting the day, he leads by 108 out of 3,583 cast.

HD 40 – Independent Rep. Josiah Aullaqsruaq Patkotak ran unopposed for the seat and has won re-election.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.

Strategic voting is possible but risky on a ranked choice ballot: mathematicians

After Alaska’s Aug. 16 special election for U.S. House, mathematicians Adam Graham-Squire and David McCune noticed something strange: If 6,000 voters for Sarah Palin had switched to Mary Peltola or not voted at all, Peltola would have lost the election.

The two, who study spoiler effects in ranked choice elections, wrote their findings in a September paper, concluding that it was the first known example of a “no-show paradox” in an American ranked-choice election. The paradox? If Peltola had gotten more votes, she might have lost.

After the result, there was some criticism of ranked choice voting, including a comment from Arkansas U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, who called it a “scam.”

“These comments raise the question: is RCV some kind of crazy scam to rig elections?” they asked in their paper.

“The short answer is: No. (The long answer is: Nooooooo.),” they wrote.

Looking ahead, the two say it is possible to make strategic choices on a ranked choice ballot, but only if there is good pre-election polling.

“As a generic rule of thumb,” Graham-Squire said, “there isn’t really any good way — with the exception of this particular election.”

McCune is a professor of mathematics at William Jewell College in Missouri, and Graham-Squire works in the math department at High Point University in North Carolina.

They both say that because the Aug. 16 special election was so close to the November vote, and because three of the four candidates in both races are the same, the special election amounted to an enormous opinion poll with almost 189,000 participants, giving unusually good data about Alaskans’ actions.

The detailed results of that earlier election showed that if Begich had been in a head-to-head race with Peltola or in a head-to-head race with Palin, he would have won either contest.

“If I was someone who had voted for Palin previously and then put Begich second and Peltola third or not at all, I would be thinking hard right now about strategically voting and putting Begich first,” he said.

He and McCune, caution that in a ranked choice – also known as an instant runoff – election, it’s pretty hard to vote strategically because polls are inexact. And in this case, the electorate in August and the one in November will be different.

“I can only speak for myself, but I think most voting theorists would say that instant runoff voting, top four or not, is much less susceptible to strategic voting than plurality is,” McCune said.

“It’s difficult because you essentially need really good poll data, and this Alaska House election is a good case study of that,” he said.

There are signs that Democrats are already voting strategically in the U.S. Senate election.

In the Aug. 16 primary and in public opinion polls since then, Democratic candidate Patricia Chesbro has received less support than similar Democrats in prior statewide races.

Conversely, Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski has polled in first place despite being censured by the Alaska Republican Party, which is backing a more conservative Republican, Kelly Tshibaka.

Chesbro said by text message that she doesn’t believe her performance is about her specifically, and that another Democrat would be in a similar situation.

Because Republicans outnumber Democrats in Alaska, Democratic voters seem prepared to back a preferred Republican over a Democrat who might align more with their values but would be less likely to win in a head-to-head matchup. (A third Republican in the race, Buzz Kelley, has suspended his campaign and is backing Tshibaka.)

A similar situation exists in the statewide race for governor, but there, the choices are less clear. Incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy was the frontrunner in August and has been the leader in opinion polls since the election.

Two challengers, Democratic candidate Les Gara and independent candidate Bill Walker, appear to be running close together in second.

Gara appears to have more first-choice support, but Walker could attract the votes of Republicans who are unwilling to support a Democrat.

“The decision to vote strategically really depends on how you think the election will go,” Graham-Squire said.

“Generally speaking, voting your actual feelings is the best bet,” he said, but if someone has doubts, break the race into head-to-head matchups.

In a head-to-head race, would Gara be more likely to beat Dunleavy, or would Walker be more likely to beat Dunleavy?

Finding what’s called the “Condorcet winner,” the person who wins all possible head-to-head matchups, can make sense, he said.

“In this way, instant-runoff elections are similar to a top-two primary system, where you may want to choose the candidate who is the most ‘electable,’ as opposed to the one who is your actual favorite,” Graham-Squire said.

What makes this — and other strategic-voting decisions — risky is that they are based on polling data that may be wrong. Voting strategically could mean accidentally contributing to the defeat of a candidate you prefer.

Gara and Walker have each urged their supporters to rank the other man second, and both believe they will need all of the votes of their friendly opponent in order to beat Dunleavy.

Walker has also released ads that repeat a statement from campaign poller Ivan Moore, who has said that in every one of his polls, Walker fares better than Gara in a head-to-head matchup against Dunleavy.

The ads do not show Moore’s other comments, which indicate Walker still loses that matchup.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.

Alaska politician indicted for sex with underage girl: report

Former Alaska Attorney General-designee Ed Sniffen was indicted Monday by an Anchorage grand jury on three counts of third-degree sexual abuse of a minor.

Sniffen is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Anchorage Superior Court, accused of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl in 1991.

The relationship was first reported in 2021 following a joint investigation between the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica.

At the time, Sniffen was acting as attorney general following the resignation of Attorney General Kevin Clarkson amid sexual harassment allegations uncovered by a different Daily News and ProPublica investigation.

Sniffen resigned days after Gov. Mike Dunleavy had appointed him Clarkson’s successor and as the Daily News was preparing to publish an article about the allegations.

Dunleavy has said he was unaware of the allegations against Sniffen and instructed incoming Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor to appoint a special investigator.

Investigator Gregg Olson, recommended three charges against Sniffen in May, leading to Sniffen’s indictment this week.

An attorney representing Sniffen was out of the office and unavailable for comment, his receptionist said Wednesday morning.

Olson offered only limited comments on Wednesday, saying that he expects the case to go to a jury and does not want to prejudice potential jurors.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.

Five takeaway lessons from Alaska’s first ranked choice election

The Alaska Division of Elections on Friday certified the state’s Aug. 16 special general election for U.S. House, confirming Democrat Mary Peltola as the winner.

Peltola will be sworn in as Alaska’s lone U.S. representative later this month after defeating Republican candidates Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III.

Though elections officials are still compiling statistics from the vote, political advisers, pollers and independent observers say there are five early lessons from Alaska’s first ranked choice election:

Ranked choice voting mostly worked

In results shared by the Division of Elections only 295 people cast ballots that couldn’t be counted for at least one candidate, including write-ins. That’s less than 0.2% of all votes.

This figure represents only “overvotes,” ballots with marks that couldn’t be counted. Some people also cast blank ballots.

“Clearly, people understood how to mark the ballot effectively,” said Chris Hughes, policy director of the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center, a national nonprofit devoted to informing the public about ranked choice voting.

“The overall (overvote) rate was honestly one of the lowest I’ve ever seen,” Hughes said.

That’s an indication that education campaigns by the division and by Alaskans for Better Elections — a nonprofit that encourages ranked choice voting — were successful.

A poll commissioned by the nonprofit found that 95% of voters reported receiving instructions on how to use ranked choice voting, and 85% of voters said it was simple.

We won’t know until next week how many of Palin’s voters and Peltola’s voters picked a second candidate, but more than 80% of Republican candidate Nick Begich’s supporters picked at least one additional candidate.

“Which is pretty solid, especially for the first time using ranked choice voting,” Hughes said.

About 6% of voters ranked only one or two candidates and had all of their options eliminated, creating what are known as “exhausted” ballots.

In some cases, that was because the voter didn’t like the remaining options. In others, it may have been because of confusion or out of protest, but it’s impossible to judge how many people fell into each category.

Palin, supported by former President Donald Trump, urged her supporters to rank only one candidate.

Tom Anderson of Optima Public Relations ran some of Palin’s advertising campaign and is working with some conservative legislative candidates.

“From the circles that I work within, they did not like the system, even if they were benefactors of it,” he said.

Ivan Moore of Alaska Survey Research, said his numbers indicate conservative Alaskans dislike ranked choice voting by a 6-1 margin, while moderates and progressives support it.

The election didn’t run perfectly. As many as seven rural communities may have had their ranked choice ballots excluded from the final result because they failed to arrive in Juneau by mail. Elections officials have said they will use express mail for the November general election.

And two rural polling places didn’t open at all on election day. In those cases, poll workers didn’t show up, and no one told election administrators until the day after.

Begich voters decided the result

Immediately after learning of her defeat, Palin blamed ranked choice voting, and some other Republicans followed suit.

Observers say her failure to sway Begich supporters was to blame.

“Mary didn’t win because of ranked choice voting. Mary won in the final equation because she was running against Sarah Palin and people didn’t like Sarah Palin,” Moore said.

Matt Larkin runs Dittman Research, which runs polls for Republicans in Alaska and said Palin is disapproved of by many voters, which explains why about half of Begich supporters voted for Peltola or no one at all after he was eliminated.

“I definitely think more Republicans chose not to rank than was expected,” said Sara Erkmann-Ward, a Republican consultant who tried to convince conservatives to rank multiple candidates.

Had more Begich supporters turned their second-choice votes in favor of Palin, she would be on her way to Washington, D.C., instead of Peltola.

Political parties had less influence

Begich was the preferred candidate of the Alaska Republican Party, which endorsed him while largely shunning Palin. Despite that support, he finished third among the three candidates and was the first eliminated.

The party also ran a “rank the red” campaign to encourage Begich and Palin supporters to rank the other as their second choice, but too few Republicans followed party instructions to give Palin the win after Begich was eliminated.

It’s premature to say the “rank the red” campaign failed, Larkin said, but “it’s probably clear that it could have worked better than it did.”

Erkmann-Ward, who worked on the campaign, said the outcome is “a natural outcrop” of the fact that political parties have been “kind of sidelined” throughout the election, not just in ranked choice voting.

The state’s new electoral system allows up to four candidates, regardless of party, to advance through the primary election.

In a special election like this one, that was particularly important because the state’s former laws allowed a political party to pick its special-election candidate without a primary election.

In this case, the Republicans may have picked Begich, and the Democratic establishment may have picked someone like Christopher Constant, who had significant early support from Anchorage party officials but faded as Peltola gained popularity in the primary campaign.

In future elections, the top-four primary means Republicans or Democrats may advance to November without party support, giving independent voters options that party leaders may disapprove of. In this election, that was Palin.

Niceness matters

In the runup to the election, Palin and Begich traded barbed comments in an attempt to sway Republican voters toward their side. Observers say that may have been counterproductive, with Palin’s comments alienating the Begich supporters she needed to win.

“I think that maybe one of the lessons learned on the Republican side coming out of this is that ranked choice really cannot work the way you want if two members of the same party are really heavily attacking one another,” Larkin said.

Peltola was on the sidelines of that intra-party conflict and maintained good relations with Palin throughout the campaign.

Peltola, a former state legislator, had a reputation for courtesy even before this year’s campaign, and one Alaska Public Media article described her attitude and reputation as a “superpower.”

Anderson said he believes that made a difference.

“She was untouchable because of her courtesy. I think people didn’t even want to go there,” he said.

He doesn’t expect that approach to last. Because Peltola won in August, she will be a target for both Palin and Begich in November, he said.

“I think the gloves are going to come off,” Anderson said, and added that he doesn’t think Palin and Begich will “make up” before the next election.

November will be different

Even if the candidates’ campaign styles may not change before November, pollers, observers and advisers say August’s results shouldn’t be directly applied to November.

Turnout is expected to be much higher in November than August, and moderate voters are more likely to participate.

Larkin used a football analogy, saying that any changes campaigns make now are akin to “halftime adjustments,” now that all sides have seen each other in action.

In addition, the November U.S. House election will include a fourth candidate, Libertarian Chris Bye, who could add a new wrinkle even though he received less than 1% of the primary-election vote.

It’s also a mistake, Larkin said, to think that August’s U.S. House results mean much for the statewide U.S. Senate or governor races.

“The composition of each field will create its own ‘weather,’” Larkin said.

And even with all the things we now know about ranked choice voting, the sheer uncertainty of a political campaign means almost anything can happen in the next two months.

“It’s Alaska politics. Heck, we could have an asteroid hit between now and then,” Erkmann-Ward said.



Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.