Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks with attendees at a meet and greet event outside of Ginger’s Restaurant on Saturday, May 14, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks with attendees at a meet and greet event outside of Ginger’s Restaurant on Saturday, May 14, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Palin stays on top; Gross drops out

The state released final results for the special primary election Tuesday

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin took the No. 1 spot in the final ballot count for the state’s special primary election, followed by Republican Nick Begich, independent Al Gross and former state lawmaker Mary Peltola, in that order, according to final tallies released by the Alaska Division of Elections on Tuesday.

As of about 4:40 p.m. Tuesday, just over 161,000 votes — representing about 27.52% of Alaska’s registered voters, had been counted. Of those, Palin received about 27.02%, followed by Begich with 19.13%, Gross with 12.63% and Peltola with 10.06%.

The race, however, had already been winnowed down to three candidates by the time the results had been finalized. Gross announced Monday night he was withdrawing from the race, citing his status as a nonpartisan candidate and saying there are “two outstanding Alaska Native women in this race who would both serve our state well.”

“I know that polarizing partisanship is not how solutions are achieved,” Gross wrote. “It takes leadership and work. Unfortunately, Alaska and America are stuck right now, and Monica and I have decided it is just too hard to run as a nonpartisan candidate in this race.”

Gail Fenumiai, Division of Elections director, wrote in a letter shared publicly on Tuesday that because Gross withdrew from the race less than 64 days before the election, the fifth place candidate — Tara Sweeney — cannot be bumped up to the general election ballot. Fenumiai wrote that Gross’ name will be removed from the special general ballot.

Palin said Tuesday that Gross’ withdrawal from the race represents the latest turn in an “unconventional” election and described new voting systems as “confusing at best, and not conducive to growing voter turnout.”

“Now that Al Gross supporters lost their candidate, I hope they will take a look at where I stand on the issues, and how I will never stop fighting for the greatest state in the Union,” Palin said.

Locally, Palin holds a much larger lead over other candidates as of regional data last updated at 2:20 p.m. Friday.

In House District 29, which covers the northern Kenai Peninsula and includes Hope, Nikiski, Cooper Landing and Seward, the Division of Elections has counted 4,915 ballots, representing about 30.16% of the district’s 16,294 registered voters. Palin leads with 43.25% of votes counted, followed by Begich with 21.69%, Gross with 10.31% and Peltola with 5.06%.

In House District 30, which covers Kenai and Soldotna, the Division of Elections has counted 4,702 ballots, representing about 27.31% of the district’s 16,773 registered voters. Palin continues to have a solid lead over opponents, with 41.23% of votes, followed by Begich with 21.86%, Gross with 8.8% and Sweeney with 5.24%.

In House District 31, which covers the southern Kenai Peninsula and includes Kasilof, Ninilchik, Anchor Point and Homer, the Division of Elections has counted 6,763 ballots, representing about 36.8% of the district’s 18,380 registered voters. Palin secured 32.17% of votes, followed by Begich with 19.06%, Gross with 18.1% and Peltola with 9.58%.

Alaska’s 2022 Special Primary Election is the first to use a nonpartisan top four primary structure, under which the election’s top four vote-getters all advance to the special general election on Aug. 16, regardless of party affiliation. The special general election in August will be the first in Alaska to use ranked choice voting, under which voters can choose more than one candidate in ranked order.

Changes to Alaska’s electoral systems were approved by voters as Ballot Measure No. 2, which passed narrowly in 2020 with 50.55% of votes cast. That measure created an open primary system and ranked choice general election and aimed to increase transparency about the use of “dark money” — or campaign funding from undisclosed sources — in Alaska elections.

The ranked choice ballot shows a grid of bubbles, with one row for each candidate and one column for preference order. Voters fill in the bubble in the “1st Choice” column that corresponds to their first-choice candidate. Voters then move to the second column and fill in the bubble that corresponds to their second-choice candidate, and so on. Voters can rank up to four candidates, or just rank one, two or three candidates.

If a candidate receives more than 50% of the first-choice votes, that candidate would be declared the winner of the election.

If no candidate receives more than 50% of the first-choice votes, the candidate who received the least number of first-choice votes is eliminated. Then, the voters who ranked the eliminated candidate as their first choice would have their second-choice candidate votes distributed to the remaining candidates. The process will continue until one candidate emerges with more than 50% of the votes.

Preliminary election results and more information about Alaska’s 2022 Special Primary Election can be found on the Alaska Division of Elections website at elections.alaska.gov.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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