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First Alaska Native elected to Congress, defeating Sarah Palin

Mary Peltola edged out the former governor in Alaska's new ranked choice voting system.

(CN) — Democrat and Alaska Native Mary Peltola is the likely winner of Alaska’s special U.S. House race to fill the seat of the late Republican Don Young, defeating former Republican Governor Sarah Palin.

Peltola led Palin Wednesday after ballots were tallied in the initial special and primary elections held Aug. 16. It was the first use of Alaska’s new ranked choice voting system.

Because none of the candidates carried 50% of the vote, the election extended to include all mail-in ballots, that deadline being Aug. 31. The mail-ins plus a count of eliminated candidates second choice rankings, to include redistribution of votes from third-place GOP candidate Nick Begich III, gave Peltola the boost she needed.

Peltola, a Yup’ik former state lawmaker who calls Bethel home, is now slated to be the first Alaska Native and woman to hold Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat. A fitting birthday present for Peltola who turned 49 on the same day as the count.

“I’m spending my 49th birthday running for the 49th state,” a recent post on Peltola’s Facebook campaign page stated.

While a substantial share of Begich’s voters marked Palin as their second choice, it was not enough to push Palin over the top. Peltola won with 51.5% of the vote to Palin’s 48.5%. Results are expected to be confirmed later this week by the state review board.

Peltola will succeed Young, who held the office since before Peltola’s birth. Known as “Dean of the House,” Young held the office for nearly five decades.

Palin is the first Republican to lose to a Democrat in a state-wide election since 2008, when Democrat Mark Begich, third place contender Nick’s uncle, won one term in the U.S. Senate until the seat flipped back to Republican Dan Sullivan.

“Mary Peltola's victory is a clear message from AK voters that they will not compromise their values or their rights at the ballot box,” Begich tweeted minutes after the unofficial results were broadcast.

“Mary is a pro-choice, pro-fish, common sense leader who knows what it takes to protect and create AK jobs. On to November!,” Begich added.

Palin’s run for Congress was her first campaign for elected office since quitting as governor in 2009 and as vice presidential candidate on the failed 2008 Republican presidential ticket alongside then-Senator John McCain of Arizona.

Palin has been a vocal critic of the new ranked choice voting system. She told the Anchorage Daily News that she did not rank anyone other than herself.

“I do not believe in this system. It should not be embraced by enthusiastic participation when we know it’s not right,” she said. However, she did say she will accept the results whichever way they decide.

“I’m not going to be a stinker about this. I respect the will of the people. I will certainly ask a lot of questions on behalf of Alaskans who are concerned, but I don’t have any intention of muddying the waters and crying foul if there is not obvious proof that anything was afoul,” she said. “I’m not going to just accuse anybody of nefarious actions.”

The vote will be certified on Friday, with Peltola likely be sworn in the week of Sept. 12, when the House reconvenes after its summer recess. Peltola will be in office until at least January, when the term ends. Meanwhile, she, Palin and Begich will keep stumping for the votes ahead of the November general election to fill the next full Congressional term.

This is a developing story.


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