The best thing about the victory of new Alaska Congresswoman Mary Peltola in a special election is that she’s not new Alaska Congresswoman Sarah Palin, the former governor who weighed down John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid as his terrible choice of a running mate.
Palin was seeking to capitalize on the death of longtime (and we mean really long time) Congressman Don Young, who held the state’s lone House seat from 1973 until he died earlier this year, to mount a political comeback as Donald Trump’s preferred candidate. The Congress and the country have been spared that — at least for the last few months of the 117th Congress, as Peltola will serve out the balance of Young’s term. Then, Democrat Peltola will face Republican Palin again on Nov. 8 with the next two years up for grabs.
Typically a Republican (even one with Palin’s baggage) would prevail in Alaska, except the public in a 2020 referendum wisely decided to improve representative democracy by instituting ranked choice voting for all offices except for president. All contenders from all parties run in a first round and the top four finishers face off using ranked choice. It’s like New York is now using in municipal office primaries, only better, as the top finishers advance regardless of party.
Peltola, Palin, Republican Nick Begich and independent (but Democratic-leaning) Al Gross were the top four for the special election. Gross then dropped out and threw his support to Peltola. She scored 40%, Palin 31% and Begich 29% in first place votes. And when Begich’s second-place votes were tallied, Peltola won.
Palin complains that the two GOP candidates got 60%, which is true, but not enough of Begich’s voters wanted the polarizing Palin. Ranked choice worked as advertised and rewarded the candidate who could appeal to the most people, which is Peltola, not Palin.
Now, Peltola and Palin and Begich and a Libertarian have a few months to make the case to Alaskans that each deserves to have a full two-year term. May the best candidate prevail. Spoiler: It’s Peltola.