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Most races too close to call in Alaska primary

Alaska's first venture into ranked-choice voting may end up giving former Governor Sarah Palin a boost into a congressional seat.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CN) — The special election to fill the late Republican Don Young’s seat in the House of Representatives was too close to call on Wednesday morning after Alaska’s first test of ranked-choice voting.

Thus far the Alaska Division of Elections has counted 150,000 ballots with 323 of 402 precincts reporting, with Democrat Mary Peltola collecting 38.4% of first-choice votes. Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III nabbed 32.6% and 29% of the first-choice votes, respectively.

The contest of who will represent Alaska in Congress until January will not be decided until Aug. 31, the deadline for accepting all mail-in ballots postmarked on or before Election Day. If no candidate achieves 50% of the vote the candidate in last place will be eliminated and their second-choice votes will be added to the counts of the remaining two candidates.

Peltola, Palin and Begich are also ranking similarly in the pick one primary vote, with Republican Tara Sweeney a distant fourth to set the November ballot to choose who will represent Alaska in Congress for a full two-year term beginning in January.

Name recognition appears to have boosted Palin as she has been mostly absent in the Last Frontier since standing on the podium next to Trump at a July 9 “Save America Rally” in Anchorage.

Palin’s run for Congress is 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.

Ranked-choice voting may propel her to victory despite being a vocal critic of the new voting system. Palin 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.”

At this point in the vote count the ranked-choice system may be what propels her to victory. If she picks up a moderate number of second place votes during the second round of counting it will give her enough to overtake Peltola.

Peltola, 48, served in the Alaska Legislature for a decade, representing the Bethel area — a predominantly Alaska Native region in the western part of the state. As a Yup’ik woman, a victory for her would mean the first Alaska Native to Congress. She has a long history of making fellow politicians her friends rather than enemies and declined on several occasions to comment negatively about Palin’s absences.

Begich, 44, is founder of a reported million-dollar software development company and the grandson of Democrat Nick Begich Sr., who served as Alaska's congressman until he disappeared in a plane crash in 1972. He is also the nephew of former U.S. Senator Mark Begich and current state Senator Tom Begich, both Democrats.

The younger Begich campaigned as a more conservative alternative to Young long before the congressman’s untimely death, leading to the endorsement of the Alaska Republican Party.

Results of the special U.S. House race are not expected to be certified until Sept. 2. when the winner will be sworn into office to serve out the last four months of Young’s term. Meanwhile, all three will keep stumping for the votes ahead of the November general election.

In the other big primary race to watch, Republican incumbent U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski is leading the votes with 43.7% and Donald Trump endorsed Republican Kelly Tshibaka has 40.3%. Democrat Patricia Chesbro has so far picked up 6.2% in distant third place out of 22 vying for the seat.

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