Mary Peltola served 10 years in the Alaska Legislature representing Bethel. When she’s sworn into office in September, she’ll be the first Alaska Native in the US Congress. (Image: Peltola for Congress)

Mary Peltola will be Alaska’s next member of the United States Congress.

The Bethel Democrat edged out Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich in Alaska’s first ranked-choice special election, which concluded today (August 31).

State Division of Elections director Gail Fenumiai walked observers through the process in a livestream over Facebook Wednesday afternoon.

“In Round 1, Nick Begich was eliminated because he had the least number of votes,” Fenumiai explained. “And it shows where the transfer votes went to the two remaining candidates. And the number of exhausted ballots. And then Round 2 showing the leader at this point in time, which is Mary Peltola with 91,206 votes, and Sarah Palin with 85,987 votes.”

Fenumiai stressed that the election results were unofficial until the State Review Board certified the election – when results would be tabulated one more time.

Alaska voters turned out in near-record numbers for the August 16 special election, which was held at the same time as the state primary election – about 192,000 voters – the third largest turnout in state history for a primary. The Division of Elections held off tabulating final results to allow time for all overseas ballots to arrive in the mail.

Peltola held a significant lead in preliminary results published by the Division prior to the final tabulation – with about 40-percent of Round 1 votes, compared to 31-percent for Palin, and 28-percent for Begich. While those numbers suggested that the two Republicans would combine votes to reach a 50-percent majority in the second round – that clearly didn’t happen. Many Begich voters gave their number-2 ranking to Peltola, which was enough to give her the majority needed to win the seat.

Once the state review board signs off on the election, Peltola will be sworn into office when the US House of Representatives concludes its summer recess in September. Peltola will be the first Alaska Native in Congress, and the first person other than Don Young to represent Alaska in the House in 49 years.

Peltola will serve in Congress until next January, when the winner of the seat in this November’s general election takes office – and Peltola now appears to be the likely favorite in that race as well.