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Sarah Palin advances in special primary for Alaska's House seat

This is the state's first use of open primaries. Voters will use ranked choice voting in August to determine a winner.
Syndication: Savannah Morning News
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin campaigns in Savannah, Ga., for gubernatorial candidate David Perdue on May 20. Will Peebles / USA Today Network

Three well-known candidates led by former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin have advanced to the general election in Alaska’s special House race, NBC News projects.

Republican Nick Begich, the grandson of former Rep. Nick Begich, D-Alaska, and nonpartisan Al Gross, a surgeon, have also advanced to the general election, according to NBC News’ projection.

In August, Alaska voters will rank four candidates to determine who secures the House seat for the final months of the late Rep. Don Young’s term. Young held the seat for decades and died in March.

This is the state’s first use of open primaries and ranked-choice voting, a system that was implemented after a ballot measure in 2020.

Here’s how the new voting system works: Alaskans cast ballots for single candidates in an open, nonpartisan primary race. The top four vote-getters advance to the general election, in which voters rank four candidates in order of preference. Any candidate who gets more than 50 percent of the vote wins the race. If no one gets a majority, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and ballots cast for the eliminated candidate are recast for voters’ second choices. The elimination and retabulation process continues until only two candidates are left. The candidate with the most votes wins.

The race and new system attracted dozens of candidates and has shaken up state politics and given nontraditional candidates a shot at success.

It’s unclear yet which candidate will secure the fourth seat in the race. The race attracted 48 candidates, including a Democratic socialist member of the City Council in North Pole, Alaska, whose legal name is Santa Claus, as well as a spate of former state politicians.  

The special election primary was conducted by mail, so final results could be days away. Election officials will accept ballots up to 10 days after election day as long as they are postmarked by election day, June 11.

Ivan Moore, a longtime pollster in the state, said that the open primary gives a wider variety of candidates — including those who don’t fit their party’s mold — significantly better shots at success.

“Established, credible, smart people perceive they’ve got a chance, because all they’ve got to do is get into the final four,” he said this month. “Once you’re in the final four, anything can happen.”