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Trump-backed congressional candidates lose in Alaska

Alaska's new ranked-choice voting system helped push an incumbent and a Democrat over Trump backed Republicans after a live final election tabulation held Wednesday.

(CN) — Incumbent Republican for U.S. Senate Lisa Murkowski prevailed in her reelection bid in a neck-and-neck race with Trump-endorsed right-wing Republican Kelly Tshibaka, with a boost from Alaska’s new ranked choice voting format.

The results of election for Alaska’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives also relied on ranked choice counts held on Wednesday afternoon, a little over two weeks from the original election on Nov. 8. Democrat Mary Peltola, who had won an August special election to fill the last few months of late Republican Don Young’s seat after he died in March 2021, had a hefty lead but had not reached the 50% mark.

Going into the final counts Peltola, the first Alaska Native elected to Congress, tallied 48.77% over Trump-endorsed Sarah Palin, and Republican Nick Begich, who split Alaska’s red votes with 25.74% and 23.34%, respectively.

With ranked choice voting, 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 top candidates and will continue with the third-place candidate’s rankings until a clear winner tops the 50% mark.

Most political analysts quoted in media leading up to the election agreed that without ranked choice Murkowski would have likely been defeated in a traditional head-to-head one vote primary by Tshibaka, a former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration since 2019, when she moved back to the state to work for Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy, after an 18-year federal government career working in nonpartisan roles in Washington, D.C.

Entering the final count, Murkowski had garnered over 43% of first choice votes and Tshibaka earned under 43%. She was trailing the incumbent by just over 2,000 votes. Democrat Pat Chesbro, a retired educator, earned 10%. Republican Buzz Kelley had 3%.

More than two-thirds of Chesbro’s voters ranked Murkowski second, pushing her over the line. In the end, Murkowski topped with 53.7% of votes ahead of Tshibaka’s 46.3%.

“I am honored that Alaskans — of all regions, backgrounds and party affiliations — have once again granted me their confidence to continue working with them and on their behalf in the U.S. Senate. I look forward to continuing the important work ahead of us,” Murkowski said in a statement posted on social media.

Despite being censured by the Alaska GOP leadership that endorsed Tshibaka after Murkowski voted to impeach former President Donald Trump following the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, she garnered campaign support from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. His defiance of national Republican leaders to spend his money elsewhere spent millions of his leadership PAC dollars on ads attacking Tshibaka.

Murkowski was first appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2002 by her father, former Senator Frank Murkowski, when he won a race for Alaska governor. She is now set to hold the seat for another six-year term.

Peltola, a former state lawmaker from Bethel and recently endorsed in October, along with Murkowski, at the largest annual convention of native peoples by the Alaska Federation of Natives emerged the clear winner of a full two-year term in Congress.

The final tabulation for Peltola came to 54.94% over the 45.06% gathered by Sarah Palin, former Republican governor and failed 2008 vice presidential hopeful on the ticket with Senator John McCain. The ranked votes were pulled from third place Begich and fourth place Bye into the final third round reallocation of votes.

Running on a platform of “Fish, family, freedom. running to represent all Alaskans,” just after the count, Peltola’s official Facebook page announced, “In case you haven’t heard… WE DID IT, ALASKA!” along with a GIF of a crab dancing.

It is also widely accepted that without ranked choice voting, the congressional seat would likely have gone to Palin. Prior to the final counts, petitions started circulating in social media to repeal the new voting system.

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