Alaska tallies US House primary after ballot access fight

The special primary for Alaska’s only U.S. House seat moved forward as planned Saturday, after a tense legal fight over ballot access issues cast a shadow over the election.

The legal drama was the latest twist in an already extraordinary election, packed with 48 candidates running for the seat left vacant by U.S. Rep. Don Young, who died in March. Young, a Republican, held the seat for 49 years.

The state Division of Elections released initial vote counts late Saturday from the election conducted primarily by mail. Saturday marked the first ballot count; additional counts are scheduled for Wednesday and Friday, with the final count on June 21.

Initial results showed Republican former Gov. Sarah Palin with 29.8%; Republican Nick Begich with 19.3%; independent Al Gross with 12.5%, and Democrat Mary Peltola with 7.5%.

Republican Tara Sweeney had 5.3%, while a self-described “independent, progressive, democratic socialist” named Santa Claus had 4.5%.

The early tally released by the division included 108,729 votes. It was not clear how many ballots were outstanding; the division reported late Friday afternoon that it had received around 130,000 ballots. Ballots had to be postmarked by Saturday.

Saturday’s election was the first under a system approved by voters in 2020 that ends party primaries and uses ranked choice voting in general elections.

The top four candidates in the special primary will advance to a special election in August, when ranked choice voting will be used.

The Associated Press has not called any winners in the special primary.

Palin released a statement expressing gratitude “to all of my wonderful supporters who voted to make Alaska great again!”

Earlier Saturday, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed and vacated a lower court order that had barred state election officials from certifying the results of the primary until visually impaired voters were given a “full and fair” opportunity to participate.

Attorneys for the state had interpreted Friday’s order from Superior Court Judge Una Gandbhir as preventing elections officials from concluding voting as scheduled on Saturday. They asked the supreme court to reverse the order.

The ruling came in a case filed days earlier by Robert Corbisier, executive director of the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights. Corbisier sued state elections officials on behalf of a person identified as B.L., a registered voter in Anchorage with a visual impairment.