U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola (D), who made history in August when she became the first Alaska Native to represent the state at the federal level, is projected to win a full House term.
Under Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system, Peltola had to wait until Alaska’s Division of Elections revealed the ranked tabulations Wednesday to see if she got over 50% of the vote and won.
In the system, voters mark the candidates in order of their preference. If no one receives more than 50% of the vote in the first round ― Peltola narrowly missed that at 48.7% ― the last-place candidate’s votes are reallocated according to who their voters picked as their second preference. The process repeats until someone gets more than 50%.
While she had hoped to avoid going to a second round of tabulations, Peltola’s showing in the Nov. 8 election was an improvement over August, when she only won about 40% of the vote in the first round and then squeaked to victory in the second round of ranked-choice voting. That vote determined who would serve the remainder of the term of the deceased Don Young, who died in office earlier in the year.
Because of its small population, Alaska only has one seat in the House.
Peltola’s victory was over most of the same rivals she beat in August — Sarah Palin, former Wasilla mayor and Republican vice presidential nominee; and Nick Begich III, the grandson of the late Rep. Nick Begich (D), who preceded Young in Alaska’s House seat. In addition to those two, libertarian candidate Chris Bye was on the November ballot.
While Peltola, a Yup’ik Alaska Native, was only in Washington for a few weeks after her August victory, she made a splash as the first person of Indigenous heritage to represent Alaska, a state where Alaska Natives make up almost 16% of the population. She also pushed unsuccessfully for a fisheries policy bill to be passed. Still, she did see her bill to establish an office of food security in the Veterans Affairs Department clear the House.
Even as the top candidates in the fall campaign, Peltola and Palin maintained a friendly rivalry, an artifact of their knowing each other from when they were both in the Alaska statehouse and pregnant simultaneously.
But the big story of the fall campaign involved another statehouse alum with whom Peltola had remained friendly: Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican. While Donald Trump endorsed Palin in the House race, the former president traveled to Alaska to campaign for Murkowski’s Republican competitor in the Senate contest, Kelly Tshibaka.
Peltola and Murkowski informally endorsed each other in October after Murkowski said she would rank Peltola first on her ranked-choice ballot. “I’m voting for her, so we’re even-steven,” Peltola said when told about Murkowski’s remarks, according to The Washington Post.
Both Murkowski and Peltola have been seen as pragmatic, relatively non-ideological lawmakers, so the mutual endorsement, likely to help Murkowski more than Peltola, was not a complete surprise. But it also reflected the political culture of Alaska.
“Alaska is a very small, tight-knit close community,” Peltola told HuffPost in August. “The funny thing about Alaska is there is this understanding that you are going to be working with these people the rest of your life, and we have a long memory, we have a lot of institutional knowledge. In my case, that has been a real asset.”