The special election to finish U.S. Rep. Don Young’s term is now a three-way race between Sarah Palin, Nick Begich III and Mary Peltola.
Gail Fenumiai, who directs the Alaska Division of Elections, made the disclosure Tuesday during a day of surprises in Alaska’s special election for its sole seat in the U.S. House.
Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system — which was set up to advance four candidates to the general election — hit a snag when third-place-finisher Al Gross suddenly dropped out of the special U.S. House race.
Gross, who is nonpartisan, had urged his supporters to vote for either Peltola or Tara Sweeney, top finishers who are both Alaska Native. Peltola, in fourth place, is a Democrat. Sweeney, in fifth place, is Republican.
“There are two outstanding Alaska Native women in this race who would both serve our state well, and I encourage my supporters to stay engaged and consider giving their first-place vote to whichever of them best matches their own values,” Gross said.
But Sweeney cannot move up the ballot to run in the special general election on Aug. 16, the Alaska Division of Elections determined. Alaska law sets a deadline of at least 64 days for a fifth-place candidate to move up, if one of the top four withdraws. Alaska’s general election is 56 days away.
“Because there are fewer than 64 days before the election, the statute does not allow the Division of Elections to place the fifth-place candidate on the ballot,” said Gail Fenumiai, who directs the Alaska Division of Elections.
Fenumiai said that anyone who wants to challenge the decision in court should do so “immediately,” because election officials would need a ruling by noon on June 28 to meet state and federal deadlines for printing the general election ballot for the Aug. 16 statewide vote.
Sweeney, a former U.S. under secretary of state, was on the campaign trail in a community without email or cell phone access, her office said Tuesday afternoon. “When she returns, we will make a campaign update,” said Karina Waller, Sweeney’s campaign manager.
“A statement will be issued once she returns and has had an opportunity to evaluate the change of circumstances given what has transpired since yesterday,” Waller said in a follow-up email to the News-Miner later in the day.
Al Gross: Highly charged partisan environment
Gross, an orthopedic surgeon, withdrew from both the special election to finish Young’s current term in office, and the regular election for the U.S. House, a two-year term that starts in January 2023.
A highly charged partisan environment was making it too much of a challenge for him to run as a nonpartisan candidate, Gross said in a prepared statement.
“Right now, our country is broken — inflation is out of control and partisan gridlock and grandstanding keeps decisive action at a standstill,” Gross said.
His priorities as a candidate included expanding Alaska energy, making health care more affordable, and diversifying the state economy.
“I still believe that when people with differing opinions listen to each other and work together, problems get solved. Maybe we can reach that place sometime in the future. I hope we do,” Gross said.
A total of 48 candidates filed to run in the special primary and general election.
Fairbanks Democrat Adam Wool was among the candidates who did not collect enough votes to advance to the final four. Wool did well in the House districts he represented as a former lawmaker but he drew less than 2% of the statewide vote in early primary results, posted June 17 by the Alaska Division of Elections.
“The good news is that in Fairbanks districts 1-5, I placed No. 4, but I didn’t do as well statewide, obviously,” Wool said.
Wool said he plans to pull out of the regular House election this week after withdrawing from the special election. Wool plans to endorse Peltola, too.
“If it turns out that there are only three candidates, including Begich and Palin, then I will support Peltola in the special election general,” Wool said.
Doyon Limited of Fairbanks and Tanana Chiefs Conference spoke out in support of voting Tuesday. But both of the major tribal organizations declined to endorse either of the Alaska Native frontrunners in the U.S. House election.
Beacon for ranked choice voting
The special primary is Alaska’s first mail-in election. The results are scheduled to be certified on June 25.
The election also is Alaska’s first test of its new ranked-choice voting system, which was adopted by statewide ballot in 2020.
“Remember Alaska is the key to the ability of rank choice voting to disrupt the two party system,” said Dr. Amy Lauren Lovecraft, political science professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“So, we are a beacon for this nation, if we can get rank choice voting to operate correctly over time,” Lovecraft said. “With Al Gross dropping out we narrow the range of the candidates’ ideologies and party affiliations.”