Election official Barb Murray watches as voter Alicia Duncan places her ballot in a receptacle during the special primary election to fill Alaska’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Election official Barb Murray watches as voter Alicia Duncan places her ballot in a receptacle during the special primary election to fill Alaska’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Juneau goes for Gross and Peltola in special primary; Palin, Begich lead the race statewide

Juneau leans Democrat but Republicans make good showing

Unofficial results released Saturday night showed some familiar names in the lead in the special primary election for Alaska’s lone seat in the House of Representatives.

With 108,981 votes counted as of 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Sarah Palin, former Republican governor of Alaska, had secured nearly 30% of the votes.

In a statement, Palin thanked her supporters and criticized the policies of President Joe Biden.

“I’m so grateful to all of my wonderful supporters who voted to make Alaska great again,” Palin said. “This country is at a turning point, and we need to focus on policies that will make life better for the regular Joes out there who can’t afford to fill their gas tanks and are struggling to feed their families because of Joe Biden’s hyperinflation.”

No other candidate had more than 20% of the votes counted, but Republican Nicholas Begich III at 19.31% was close, according to figures shared by the Alaska Division of Elections.

Independent Al Gross, 12.47%; and Democrat Mary Peltola, 7.45%; were the two candidates with the next most votes. Republican Tara Sweeney, 5.25%; independent Santa Claus, 4.47%; and independent Jeff Lowenfels, 3.86% and Democrat Christopher Constant, 3.5%; were the four candidates with the next most votes.

With over 138,000 ballots so far received and accepted by the Division of Elections as of Saturday, the vote tallies will change significantly.

In an interview with the Empire Monday morning, DOE spokesperson Tiffany Montemayor said the division is still counting ballots and results will be updated on June 15, 17 and 21. The division hopes to have results certified by June 25. Ballots have 10 days to arrive, Montemayor said.

Speaking to the Empire Monday, Begich said he was thrilled by the results which tracked with his campaign’s internal polling.

“Ultimately, I think this is a contest between Nick Begich and Sarah Palin,” Begich said.

Saturday’s election was the special primary election to immediately fill the few remaining months of former U.S. Rep. Don Young’s, R-Alaska, term, but Begich said he expected the top four candidates in the special election would be the same in the general election.

“I think we’re going to see the same four people advance who advance in this race,” Begich said.

In an email, Gross said Alaskans were tired of the dysfunction in Congress and wanted less partisan candidates.

“I’m incredibly excited to see the groundswell of support behind our campaign to bring independent leadership to our state,” Gross said. “I’m ready to move to the next stage in this historic election, where we will be able to make a clear contrast between my vision for making Washington deliver more for Alaska, and my opponents who are controlled by partisan interests.”

In 2020, Gross lost a bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Republican, with the backing of the state Democratic Party but this year the party has disavowed Gross on social media and gave support to Peltola.

In an interview with the Empire, Peltola said she was optimistic about the results and that doing well in the special election was a good sign for the regular election.

“It bodes well,” Peltola said. “I think it shows that I have an appeal to voters, I’m very happy with the tally so far and I’m optimistic about the rest of the special election as well the regular election.”

Juneau votes

Juneauites voted mostly for moderates and progressives but Republicans Begich and Palin did fairly well, according to unofficial results released Saturday evening. With 7,730 votes cast in Juneau’s districts, independent Al Gross captured the most votes with 1,901, followed by Peltola with 1,578.

Palin received 1,159 votes between Juneau’s two districts and Begich 1,099, and independent North Pole City Councilman Santa Claus got 591 votes.

Alaska’s districts are currently being redrawn but the matter is still before the court, and the Division of Election used the state’s voting precincts that have been in place since 2013, Montemayor said.

Tentative turnout

The last day for Alaskans to have their say in how a field of 48 candidates is narrowed to four was marked by slow and steady in-person turnout in the capital city, according to election officials.

Saturday was the deadline for ballots to be turned in to the Division of Elections or postmarked for the by-mail special primary election to fill the last months of Young’s term. Young died in March at 88, setting the stage for an unprecedented 48-candidate race to fill the remainder of his term.

While in-person turnout paled in comparison to the 2020 primary, election official Mary Miller said, small waves of people had been stopping by the Division of Elections Office in the Mendenhall Mall since the division opened as a voting location at 7 a.m. Saturday

“We have had spurts,” Miller said Saturday morning. “It’s been steady, but you know it’s different.”

While in-person voting may have been unremarkable on Saturday, data shared by the state show relatively robust voter participation for a primary election.

As of Tuesday, 138,869 ballots had been received and accepted, according to the Division of Elections. That means with more ballots to be counted, this year’s primary has seen stronger voter turnout than in 2020 when 133,569 ballots were cast in the primary election held on Aug. 18, according to the division. In 2018, 115,727 ballots were cast in the primary on Aug. 21. In 2016, fewer than 100,000 people — 88,817 ballots cast — voted in the primary, according to state data.

The turnout was applauded by Alaskans For Better Elections, which describes itself as a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to providing public education and research, about how Alaska-style elections work.

“We are thrilled that Alaskans demonstrated their commitment to democracy by their increased participation in the Special Primary compared to the past three primary election cycles,” said Bruce Botelho, Alaskans For Better Elections Board Member and Co-Chair, in a statement. “Alaskans were presented with a large and diverse candidate list and they used the opportunity to make sure their voices were heard.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire. Ben Hohenstatt contributed to this article.

Matt Felix fills out paperwork Saturday before casting a ballot at the Alaska Division of Election’s Mendenhall Mall location. Felix said he opted to cast a ballot in person because he did not receive one by mail. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Matt Felix fills out paperwork Saturday before casting a ballot at the Alaska Division of Election’s Mendenhall Mall location. Felix said he opted to cast a ballot in person because he did not receive one by mail. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

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