Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin Leads in Early Results offor the only US House seat in the state, as voters narrowed the list of 48 candidates to fill the position held for 49 years by the late US Representative Don Young.
Early results showed that Palin, backed by former President Donald Trump, had so far counted 29.8% of the vote; Republican Nick Begich had 19.3%; independent Al Gross had 12.5%; Democrat Mary Peltola at 7.5%; and Republican Tara Sweeney had 5.3%.
A candidate whose name is Santa Claus, a self-proclaimed “independent, progressive, democratic socialist,” had 4.5%.
The first results released by the state division of elections included 108,729 votes. It was not immediately clear how many ballots were still open. The division reported late Saturday that it had received about 139,000 ballots so far. The ballots had to be stamped before Saturday.
The Associated Press has not named any winners in the special primaries.
“I am so grateful to all my amazing supporters who voted to make Alaska great again!” Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, said in a statement.
The top four votes, regardless of party affiliation, will advance to a special election in August, using ranking choice votes. The winner of the special election will serve the remainder of Young’s term, which ends in January. Young died in March at the age of 88.
This election was unlike anything the state has seen, packed with candidates and conducted mainly by mail. This was also the first election under a voter-approved system in 2020 that ends party primaries and rank-based voting used in general elections.
Saturday marked the first count of votes; State election officials are planning additional counts on Wednesday and Friday, and a final count on June 21. Their goal was to certify the race on June 25.
Earlier Saturday, the Alaska Supreme Court overturned a lower court order prohibiting state election officials from certifying the results of the special primary until visually impaired voters were given a “full and fair” chance to participate.
State lawyers had interpreted Friday’s order from Supreme Court Justice Una Gandbhir as an impediment to election officials from completing the vote as scheduled on Saturday. They asked the Supreme Court to reverse the order.
The ruling came in a case filed days earlier by Robert Corbisier, executive director of the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights. Corbisier sued state election officials on behalf of a person identified as BL, a registered voter in Anchorage with a visual impairment.
The sheer number of candidates left some voters overwhelmed and many of the candidates themselves faced challenges in campaigning and trying to impress voters in a short period of time. The deadline for submitting candidates was April 1.
Before Young’s death, there were relatively few candidates. Begich was one of the first newcomers; he launched his campaign last fall and did his best to win the support of conservatives. The businessman, who comes from a family of prominent Democrats, received support from the Alaska Republican party.
Peltola, a former Bethel state legislator who has been involved in fisheries issues, said earlier this week that she entered the race with little name recognition but believes she has changed that and is moving forward with her candidacy.
Palin’s run marks her first bid for elected office since she stepped down as governor midway through her term in 2009. She was supported in this campaign by a number of national political figures, including Trump, who participated in a “telerally” for her and said Palin would “fight” harder than anyone I can think of, particularly on energy issues.
Palin tried to assure voters that she takes her offer seriously and is committed to Alaska.
During the campaign, opponents poked at it. Gross, an orthopedic surgeon who failed the U.S. Senate in 2020, said Palin “quitted Alaska.” Begich and Sweeney said they are not quitters.
Gross said in an email to supporters during the campaign that Palin and Begich are candidates who will be tough to beat, but said he is “ready and able to take on this fight”.
Under Trump, Sweeney served as Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the United States Department of the Interior and was supported by a group representing leaders of the influential regional corporations in Alaska.
She said she understands the ‘pressure cooker’ environment of Washington, DC