Palin Loses in Alaska Special House Election
Palin Loses in Alaska Special House Election
Some political pundits are calling it a “shock” victory, as Democrat Mary Peltola defeated former Alaska governor Sarah Palin in a special House election. The winner will fill out the term of Rep. Joe Young, who died in March. Young filled the only House seat in the entire state, so it’s a big deal in Alaska.
If you ask the pundits at the New York Times, they’ll point out that Mary Peltola is a Native Alaskan — the first, in fact, to win office in the state. She’s also upbeat and kind, says the NYT, as opposed to the “bombast and penchant for drama” that Palin exhibits. (The Times did point out that Palin and Peltola are good friends).
For instance, in response to her critics, the former AK governor went into her famous pit bull mode:
“The stuff that you’ve heard about me — it’s a lie. I’m way worse than what you’ve heard.”
Plus, Donald Trump endorsed Palin, and Trump has alienated independents and moderate Republicans, says the Times.
Or could the new way that Alaskans vote have made the biggest difference?
It’s called “ranked choice voting.” Basically, there is no primary system in Alaska; instead there is a system of first, second, and third choices on a ballot. Voters are not required to rank all candidates, either. If a candidate doesn’t hit 50 percent in the first ballot, then the candidate with the lowest vote tally gets scrapped.
This particular ballot featured Republicans Palin, Nick Begich III, and Democrat Mary Peltola. And Palin didn’t care for this new way of voting, telling CPAC in August:
“In Alaska, we have this bizarre system, this newfangled [system] that’s been newly adopted where we have a ranked-choice voting system, where it doesn’t matter if you win by getting the most votes. Really, it matters if you have more second- and third-place votes, according to how the voters are ranking you.”
“It is bizarre, it’s convoluted, it’s complicated, and it results in voter suppression.”
Nor did it help Sarah Palin at all. By the time all the mail-in votes were counted in Alaska, she lost.
It all began in June, after the death of Young in March, when the first list of candidates emerged. At first there were 48, including a Bernie Sanders supporter and even Santa Claus. Eventually the pack shrank to four: Palin, Peltola, Begich, and independent Al Gross. But Gross dropped out, paving the way for increased Democrat support for Peltola.
But it still wasn’t a slam-dunk for Mary Peltola on the first ballot. On round one, no candidate received 50%; the highest percentage was 40%, and it went to Peltola. Palin came in second with 31%, and Begich brought up the rear with 28.5%. Thus, Begich was dropped in the round two ballot, while 53,700 of his votes went to either Palin or Peltola. Plus, some 11,000 of Begich’s votes were declared “exhausted;” these votes don’t count. Ballotpedia explains “exhausted” votes this way:
In cases where a voter has ranked only candidates that did not make it to the final round of counting, the voter’s ballot is said to have been exhausted.
In other words, the ballots in which the voters marked only Begich’s name were declared to be “exhausted.” Therefore, they didn’t count for either Palin or Peltola. However, Begich’s second-round votes gave Peltola the edge, with 51.47%.
Screenshot: Geoffrey Skelly @geoffreyvs/Twitter.
So Sarah Palin’s loss in Alaska may have been largely the result of ranked-choice voting — a system that barely passed by 50.55% when the state presented it to voters in 2020. Palin herself has called for Alaskans to repeal the measure, and to return to “a straightforward, common-sense system that elects the candidate who earns the most votes.”
Remember that this was a special election to replace Alaska’s deceased member of the House. And while Peltola won, she may be serving for only four months, since Alaska — like the rest of the nation — will participate in midterms this November. At this point it appears that there will be three names on the ballot; besides Democrat Mary Peltola, there will be two Republicans. These will include Nick Begich, and, of course, Sarah Palin.
Meanwhile, media are chalking up Palin’s loss to anything but the new, convoluted election system in Alaska. The Independent in the UK says Palin’s loss shows that the midterms will be a “Roe” election. Meanwhile, the New York Times is laying her loss at the feet of Donald Trump. Moreover, the NYT speculates that his endorsement of Palin “could do as much to mobilize his political opponents against her this fall as it could to help her.”
Frankly, I think it’s foolish for media types who don’t live in Alaska to think they have a finger on the pulse of the state. I believe that it’s a far different place than any other state in the lower 48.
Nor will I try to predict how Alaska will vote, either. Perhaps Sarah Palin’s loss was a result of the new, ranked-choice voting. Or maybe after all these years the bloom is off the rose as far as Palin goes, or for Donald Trump as well. But it will be interesting to see if there’s life yet in Palin’s electability, or if she’s reached the end of her public shelf life.