For decades, It was unthinkable that Alaska would allow a Democrat to hold its only House seat, held since 1972 by the late GOP Rep. Don Young. That’s exactly what happened in races in Georgia or Arizona: Alaskans voted 55-45 in favor of Democrat Mary Peltola, a former state legislator who won her first full term over the popular former governor. Sarah Palin.
After winning a seat in August’s special election, Peltola had plenty of time to unpack in Washington. Palin was his main challenger then, and in the months that followed, Peltola only increased his lead. He helped in part with ranked-choice voting in Alaska’s general election debut. The system, which transfers votes to second-choice candidates when a voter’s first choice is eliminated, has drawn national attention and sometimes controversy.
Elections are a long affair in the 49th state, where challenges such as distance, isolation and harsh weather abound, and mail-in ballots have up to ten days to count before Election Day. The Alaska Division of Elections does not count mail-in and polled ballots until after Election Day, most of which are from rural areas, mostly Alaska Natives.
It’s not a system that benefits election-denying extremists like Palin, and Palin isn’t a good loser. The former governor has indicated he will contest the results of the race since the polls closed. He sowed doubt and misinformation about ranked-choice voting in August, as I reported at the time:
“It’s weird, it’s confusing, it’s confusing, and it’s resulting in voter suppression,” Palin told the CPAC crowd. “It results in a lack of voter enthusiasm because it’s so weird.” None of these are true. Maine has had ranked-choice voting since 2016, and a number of cities and municipalities across the country have adopted the system. Amy Fried, a political science professor at the University of Maine, said, “Compared to ballots in elections using plurality voting, ranked-choice races do not have a higher rate of incomplete or spoiled ballots.” Mother Jones. “Voter turnout is not low either.” Rick Pildes, a professor of constitutional law at New York University School of Law, noted, “There is no evidence that voters were confused or did not understand how to rank the candidates one, two, three.”
Palin last week became the first person to sign her name to a citizens’ initiative that would abolish ranked-choice voting.
For his part, Peltola made it clear that ranked-choice voting helped him Teen Vogue earlier this month: “I was pleasantly surprised by the result. The time is right. [This new voting system] It will help us get out of the closed partisan primaries, as a result of which very extreme and sometimes fringe candidates win.”
With Peltola’s victory, Alaskans demonstrated that being geographically disconnected from the rest of the country does not mean they are any less connected to democracy and protecting abortion rights. Palin, a Donald Trump sympathizer, is an election conspiracist and supporter of disinformation. Peltola has publicly supported codifying abortion rights into federal law — as her campaign slogan promised, she would be a “pro-choice, pro-fish” voice in Congress.