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Mary Peltola Becomes First Alaska Native in Congress After Defeating Sarah Palin

Mary Peltola for Congress

The Alaska Native is making history.

Democrat Mary Peltola has become the first Alaska Native in Congress after beating Republican Sarah Palin in Alaska's recent special election.

Peltola will serve for the remainder of the late Don Young's term. Young was the longest serving Republican in congressional history, serving as a representative in Alaska's largest district for 49 years, from 1973 until his death in 2022. Peltola will fill his position until the full-term election in November, flipping the previously Republican-held seat.

The race marks the final special election in the U.S. before the November midterms. Peltola defeated Palin, former Alaskan governor and 2008 GOP vice-presidential candidate, with 51.5 percent of the vote to Palin's 48.5 percent. After an endorsement from Donald Trump, Palin has viewed the special election as a means to attempt a political comeback.

The special election marked Alaska's first use of the ranked-choice voting system. RCV is electoral system where voters rank candidates on their ballot in order of preference. A candidate wins if they receive the majority of first-preference votes. If no candidate holds the majority, the lowest ranked candidate is eliminated, and voters' second choice tallies go towards the remaining candidates. This process repeats until a candidate holds the majority.

Alaska's process began with 48 candidates, eventually dwindling to four after the June primary: Palin, Peltola, Republican Nick Begich III, and Independent Al Gross. Gross dropped out shortly after, solidifying that Democratic support would fall behind Peltola instead of splitting the vote between the two candidates.

Peltola harnessed the momentum following the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the case securing the right to abortion nationwide. Peltola ran on a pro-choice and pro-union platform, eventually winning over Alaska's large fishing industry with her labor positions.

Since her loss, Palin has taken the opportunity to criticize ranked-choice voting, deeming it a "new crazy, convoluted, confusing" system. She also called on her supporters to send an "America First conservative to Washington in November." Despite early confusion, CNN reports that the switch to RCV in Alaska was nearly seamless.

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