By BECKY BOHRER
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin tops early results in Saturday’s special primary for the state’s only seat in the U.S. House, as voters narrows the list of 48 candidates vying for the position held for 49 years by the late US Representative Don Young.
Early results showed Palin endorsed by former President Donald Trump with 29.8% of votes counted so far; Republican Nick Begich had 19.3%; independent Al Gross had 12.5%; Democrat Mary Peltola with 7.5%; and Republican Tara Sweeney had 5.3%.
A candidate whose name is Santa Claus, a self-proclaimed “independent socialist, progressive and democrat”, had 4.5%.
Early results released by the state’s Division of Elections included 108,729 votes. It was not immediately clear how many ballots were in circulation. The division reported Saturday evening that it had received approximately 139,000 ballots so far. Ballots had to be postmarked by Saturday.
The Associated Press did not name any winners of the special primary.
The top four voters, regardless of party affiliation, will move on to a special election in August in which ranked-choice voting will be used. The winner of the special election will serve the remainder of Young’s term, which ends in January. Young died in March at the age of 88.
This election was unlike any the state has seen, crammed with candidates and conducted mostly by mail. It was also the first election under a voter-approved system in 2020 that ends party primaries and uses preferential-choice voting in general elections.
Saturday marked the first vote count; state election officials plan additional counts on Wednesday and Friday, and a final count on June 21. They targeted June 25 to certify the race.
Palin, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, released a statement expressing her gratitude “to all of my wonderful supporters who voted to make Alaska great again!”
Earlier Saturday, the Alaska Supreme Court overturned and reversed a lower court order that had barred state election officials from certifying the results of the special primary until visually impaired voters had the “full and fair” opportunity to participate.
State prosecutors had interpreted Superior Court Judge Una Gandbhir’s Friday order as preventing election officials from concluding the vote as scheduled on Saturday. They asked the Supreme Court to overturn the order.
The decision came in a case filed days earlier by Robert Corbisier, executive director of the Alaska State Commission on Human Rights. Corbisier sued state election officials on behalf of someone identified as BL, a registered voter in Anchorage with a visual impairment.
The sheer number of candidates left some voters overwhelmed, and many of the candidates themselves struggled to organize a campaign on the fly and try to leave an impression on voters in a short time. The deadline for submitting applications was April 1.
Relatively few candidates were running for the seat before Young’s death. Begich was among the first participants; he launched his campaign last fall and has struggled to win support from conservatives. The businessman, from a family of prominent Democrats, was supported by the Alaska Republican Party.
Peltola, a former Bethel state lawmaker who has been embroiled in fishing issues, said earlier this week she entered the race with low name recognition, but believes she has changed that and has momentum behind his candidacy.
Palin’s run marks her first bid for elected office since she stepped down as governor midway through her term in 2009. She has been endorsed in that campaign by some national political figures, including Trump, who participated in a “conference call” for her and said Palin would “fight harder than anyone I can think of,” especially on energy issues.
Palin sought to assure voters that she is serious about her candidacy and committed to Alaska.
During the campaign, opponents pushed for this. Gross, an orthopedic surgeon who unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2020, said Palin “left Alaska.” Begich and Sweeney have insisted that they are not quitters.
Gross, in an email to supporters during the campaign, said Palin and Begich are candidates who will be tough to beat, but said he was “ready and able to fight this fight.”
Sweeney was Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs in the US Department of the Interior under Trump and was endorsed by a group that represents leaders of influential regional corporations in the state of Alaska.
She said she understood the “pressure cooker” environment of Washington, D.C.