In Alaska’s first statewide by-mail vote, turnout was highest for a primary since 2014

ballots go into a scanner
Laraine Derr feeds ballots through a scanner on Wednesday, June 15, 2022 at the Division 1 office of the Alaska Division of Elections in Juneau, Alaska. Derr was among elections workers counting ballots in Alaska’s special U.S. House primary election. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Final preliminary results posted Tuesday night by the Alaska Division of Elections show 161,614 people voted in the special election for U.S. House, Alaska’s first statewide election by mail. With 27.5% of registered voters participating, it’s the highest turnout in a primary since 2014 and the sixth-highest in the past 20 years.

Forty-eight candidates entered the race, and ordinarily, the top four finishers would advance to the Aug. 16 special general election, but the third-place finisher, Al Gross, said he will withdraw from the race. 

Elections officials said that will leave only three finalists, and fifth-place finisher, Tara Sweeney, has said she will not challenge the decision in court.

RELATED: Tara Sweeney does not plan to sue over decision that she can’t fill vacancy on US House ballot

Finishing first in the preliminary results is Republican candidate Sarah Palin, with 27% of the vote. Second is Republican Nick Begich with 19.1%. Gross, a nonpartisan candidate, is third at 12.6%, followed by Democratic candidate Mary Peltola with 10.1% of the vote.

Sweeney, a Republican, is fifth with 5.9%. Undeclared candidate Santa Claus, who has referred to himself as a Bernie Sanders-style progressive, is in sixth with 4.7% of the vote.

Democratic candidate Chris Constant is seventh (3.9%), followed by nonpartisan Jeff Lowenfels (3.7%), Republican John Coghill (2.4%) and Republican Josh Revak (2.4%). 

No candidate outside the top 10 had more than 2% of the vote.

Election workers are expected to certify the results by Saturday after checking some votes by hand and conducting further review as required by state law.

At least 7,426 of the received ballots were disqualified and not counted for any candidate, based on a preliminary tally published Monday

RELATED: About 1 in 8 rural Alaska ballots have been rejected in special primary, raising red flags with lawmakers

The rejection rate was running above 17% in one Southwest Alaska state House district and above 14% in a House district along the Bering Strait.

Turnout increased in 35 of the 40 state House districts compared with the 2020 primary. The only districts with fewer ballots cast were the four districts in Northern and Western Alaska, and the district that includes most of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

After certification, the Division of Elections will publish a report identifying the reasons for rejection and will notify voters whose ballot was cast but not counted for any candidate.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: info@alaskabeacon.com. Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.

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