The results of Tuesday’s special general election for US Representative won’t be official until possibly as late as August 31 to allow overseas ballots to arrive.
Nevertheless, if voters in Sitka and surrounding communities had the final word, Mary Peltola would be representing Alaska in the US Congress – by a long shot.
The Bethel Democrat leads Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich by 6- and 9-percentage points respectively statewide – but she doesn’t have the 50-percent majority to be declared the winner in Alaska’s first-ever ranked choice election. In a second round, the results could flip depending on the second choices of voters.
But in Sitka, Peltola was the runaway winner by 36 points over Palin, and 41 points over Begich, with almost 59-percent of the vote.
Clearly, there was a lot of local interest in the election, and not much confusion over the front-and-back ballots. Sitka Precinct 2 captain Dorothy Orbison was happy with the turnout a couple of hours before polls closed Tuesday evening.
Orbison – For a primary, the turnout is amazing.
KCAW – It’s a primary, plus our special election.
Orbison – Correct. Usually there’s not this much interest, but there’s a lot of interest.
KCAW – Steady all day?
Orbison – Busy all day. Not just steady – busy.
911 voters cast ballots in Sitka’s Precinct 2 on Tuesday, and 815 cast ballots in Sitka’s Precinct 1, which is on a par with the 2020 General Election, when Joe Biden was elected president. The only recent primary to see this kind of turnout was in 2014, when the ballot had a contentious proposition about the oil tax.
Mary Peltola was also the favorite in many other communities in House District 2. In Tenakee, she took 79-percent of the vote, in Port Alexander 65-percent, in Angoon, Peltola won 61-percent of the vote, in Yakutat 56-percent, and in Kake 50-percent. Peltola’s success faltered in Petersburg, where she took 36-percent of the vote – tying with Sarah Palin – and in Pelican and Elfin Cove, where she took only 31-percent, five percentage points behind Palin.
As expected from these results, voters in our district also preferred Peltola in the primary election to fill Don Young’s House seat on a full-time basis. Palin and Begich were a strong second- and third-place, and a third Republican, Tara Sweeney eked out enough votes to get the fourth-place spot on the ranked-choice ballot voters will see in November. For a high-profile candidate, it’s noteworthy that Sweeney picked up 11 votes in Sitka’s Precinct 1, and no votes – zero – in Precinct 2.
In other key primary races, Sitkans were just as pronounced in their choices, and just as misaligned with the rest of the state. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s 4-point lead statewide over challenger Kelly Tshibaka is closer to 35-points in Sitka. For governor, Sitkans also flipped the statewide spread, giving 42-percent of their vote to former Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, and giving 27-percent each to the Democrat Les Gara, and incumbent Republican Mike Dunleavy. Those three will be joined by Republican Christopher Kurka, who took only 4 percent of the vote statewide, and like Sweeney, received no votes in Sitka Precinct 2. Kurka performed better in Sitka Precinct 1, picking up 30 votes.
For state senator, Sitka Republican Bert Stedman was the runaway favorite in the primary, taking 67-percent of the vote over Petersburg Republican Mike Sheldon. Both will appear on the ranked-choice general election ballot in November.
For state house, the seat being vacated by Sitka Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, things are a bit tighter. Sitka Assembly member Rebecca Himschoot took 54-percent of the vote, to former Hoonah Mayor Kenny Karl Skaflestad’s 46 percent – but in this district that’s only a difference of 237 votes. Outside of Sitka, there didn’t seem to be a clear voting pattern: The race was surprisingly close in Hoonah, for example, while Skaflestad was the clear favorite in communities like Kake, Kasaan, Thorne Bay, and Pelican and Elfin Cove.
Like the race for state senate, both candidates from the House District 2 primary will appear on the general election ranked-choice ballot in November.