Tonight’s the night we finally learn who won the special election to be Alaska’s new representative in the House that was held, uh … 15 days ago.
Life moves more slowly in Alaska.
Read this post if you missed it on Friday or else you’ll be lost on how things might play out under the state’s new ranked-choice voting system. The quick version: Democrat Mary Peltola got the most first-place votes of any of the three candidates in this race after Sarah Palin and Nick Begich split the Republican base. Because Begich ended up finishing third, he’s now eliminated; the winner of the race will be decided this evening by the second-place votes on ballots that had him first. Palin needs many more second-place votes from Begich voters than Peltola in order to make up the nine-point gap between the two. Fortunately, most of Begich’s voters are Republicans, and Republican voters tend to prefer a Republican alternative to a Democrat.
Unfortunately, Sarah from Alaska has a lot of baggage. A lot. It may be that a large share of Republicans who ranked Begich first did so because they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Palin. If that’s true then Peltola might do better on Begich’s ballots than anyone expects. And if she does, she’s going to Congress in a momentous upset.
Palin needs to be the second choice on a bit more than two-thirds of the Begich ballots. Experts have her as a slight favorite to pull it off, which would return her to elected office for the first time in 13 years. But Peltola’s lead heading into the second round is big enough that, if Palin wins, she’s likely to do so only very narrowly. There’s real suspense here.
Just to make it all a bit weirder, Peltola, Palin, and Begich are facing each other again on the ballot in November in the House general election. The winner tonight will serve out the rest of this term whereas the winner in the fall will get a full two-year term. The three candidates are scheduled to be onstage together this afternoon, participating in a campaign event for the November election, as the final results of the special election are announced:
— Alaska Survey Research 🇺🇦 (@IvanMoore1) August 30, 2022
It’s tempting to assume that whoever wins this race will also win the general election, but you should resist that assumption. Depending on the outcome, it could bring out a different electorate in the fall. The electorate in U.S. special elections is always meaningfully different from the electorate in general elections, in fact, but in Alaska’s case the back-to-back nature of the two votes could influence voters’ calculations in unexpected ways. If Peltola falls just short tonight, Democrats who didn’t bother to vote in the special election might resolve to turn out in November. If Peltola wins, Begich and Palin voters may decide for partisan reasons to make sure that Republicans are their first- and second-place choices in the general.
The results will be tabulated live beginning at 8 p.m. ET. There’s a widget embedded below so that you can follow returns but I’m not sure there’ll be any “returns” as we traditionally understand them. Per CNN, “The elections division plans to live-stream its tabulation, which should take mere moments, since it is conducted on a computer.” Instead of waiting for the widget to update and reveal the winner, you can just watch the livestream from Alaska as election officials make the announcement. Here’s the video at Facebook.