A roll of I voted stickers await voters on Saturday at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Juneau. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Special House race set for photo finish

Peltola now leads by 8% in special House race, pollster calls it ’toss-up’ due to ranked choice voting

Democrat Mary Peltola continues to increase her lead over Republican Sarah Palin in the special election to fill the remainder of the late U.S. Rep. Don Young’s term, creating a potential photo finish when ranked choice votes are tallied next Wednesday, according to the latest results released Friday by the Alaska Division of Elections.

“Our latest projection suggests that based on ballots counted so far, after redistribution we’re headed for … Palin 50.7%, Peltola 49.3%,” Ivan Moore, head of Alaska Survey Research, wrote in a Twitter message at midday Friday.

But in a follow-up analysis he emphasized there are numerous unknowns, and “a small change in the values we’ve assumed and it’s anyone’s race.”

“PROJECTION: TOSS-UP,” is his all-caps conclusion.

Elections officials also released their unofficial final tally from the primary for the regular U.S. House, U.S. Senate and in-state races. There were no major shifts from previously released results, although Peltola’s standing in that race is lower by roughly the same number of votes received by Republican Tara Sweeney — who, like Peltola, is an Alaska Native — who dropped out of the race Tuesday.

In the special U.S. House race, Peltola has 70,730 votes (39.25%), Palin 56,246 (31.21%) and Republican Nick Begich 50,458 (28%), according to totals released Thursday evening (an additional update is expected late Friday).

That compares to Tuesday’s totals putting Peltola at 38.2% (compared to 38.05% last week), Palin at 31.82% (down from 31.93%) and Begich at 28.47% (down from 28.54%).

The most recent totals represent 397 of 402 (98.76% precincts) reporting, and 183,879 ballots cast. So the critical questions for Peltola, Palin and Begich is how many absentee ballots are received by the Aug. 31 deadline (and where are they from) and who the second-choice candidate is for voters who ranked more than one on their ballots. Palin stated she voted only for herself and many of her supporters stated they did likewise.

Moore, in ultimately calling the race a toss-up, acknowledged there’s plenty of room for variance in the remaining absentee ballots, as well as remaining questioned ballots he predicts will favor Peltola.

The primary elections were conducted the same day as the special election, but final results were tallied Friday since those are due 10 days after election day compared to 15 days for the special election.

In the regular U.S. House race for two-year term starting next January, Peltola has 66,476 votes (36.44%), Palin 55,602 (30.48%), Begich 48,031 (26.33%) and Sweeney 6,790 (3.72%). But with Sweeney dropping out the fifth-place finisher will advance to the November general election under the new nonpartisan “final four” process, with Libertarian Chris Bye essentially a lock for the spot with 1,129 votes (0.62%), more than twice as many as any of the remaining 17 candidates.

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski continues to maintain a solid edge with 81,452 votes (44.81%) over fellow Republican Kelly Tshibaka’s 70,812 votes (38.96%). Democrat Patricia Chesbro trails far behind with 12,102 votes (6.66%) and Republican Buzz Kelley is set for the fourth spot with 3,928 votes (2.16%), also more than double that of the remaining 16 candidates.

In the governor’s race incumbent Republican Mike Dunleavy maintains a dominant lead with 73,585 votes (40.49%), while independent Bill Walker with 41,100 (22.73%) and Democrat Les Gara with 41,057 votes (22.71%) continue their virtual deadlock.

Republican Charlie Pierce is locked in to the fourth spot with 12,124 votes (6.7%) and, while his chances of winning the general election appear scant, he could potentially play a significant role if ranked choice voting results in a combination of Walker and Gara voters compiling a near-majority. Pierce announced Friday he is stepping down as the Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor to focus on the race.

Pierce was one of two high-profile Republicans in the primary who said dissatisfaction with Dunleavy’s leadership — not taking a harder stance against COVID-19 related mandates, for instance — during his first term was their motivation for running.

Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

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