Alaska Special Election Set

By Jim Ellis

Alaska’s At-Large Congressman, the late Don Young (R-Ft. Yukon)

March 24, 2022 — Decisions have been made about the special election calendar to replace the late at-large Alaska Congressman Don Young (R-Ft. Yukon).

Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) has set June 11 as the special primary election day, and the vote will be conducted through the mail. Alaska’s new top-four jungle primary system will be in play, meaning that four competitors will advance into the special general election, regardless of party affiliation.

The special general will be run concurrently with the Aug. 16 regular primary election, meaning candidates will be placed separately on the ballot for both the special election and the regular full term.

If no candidate receives majority support in the Aug. 16 special election, the Ranked Choice Voting System will take effect. Voters would rank their choices from first to four just for the special general. Since no one would have received 50 percent, the last-place finisher is eliminated and the ballots that ranked the last place finisher as their first choice are located, and only their second choices are then added to the total. This process continues until one of the candidates reaches 50 percent.

This means that voters will rank the four finalists for the special general and then vote for one of the regular primary candidates for the Nov. 8 election during the same voting process on Aug. 16, or the date on which they choose to vote early.

Since Alaska’s at-large House seat has not been open since the 1973 special election when Rep. Young was originally elected, a large special election field will form. Already, Nick Begich III, grandson of Rep. Young’s first Democratic opponent back in 1972, then-Congressman Nick Begich (D) who perished in a plane crash shortly before the regular general election, is in the field but as a Republican. He had announced against Young in the Republican primary before the congressman’s death.

Also saying he will run both in the special and regular elections, as did Begich, is Anchorage City Assemblyman Chris Constant (D).

The Democratic/Independent 2020 US Senate nominee who raised and spent over $19.5 million to unsuccessfully challenge GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan, surgeon Al Gross, publicly said that he, too, plans to enter the open seat campaign. Dr. Gross begins the race with a reported $200,000 (approximate) in remaining campaign funds, obviously a big advantage.

We can expect others to also come forward. As was inevitable, former governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s name is already being bandied about. Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson (R) is another potential contender. Additionally, the ideological right’s Joe Miller, who denied Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) re-nomination in the 2010 Republican primary only to lose to her when she pivoted into the general election as a write-in candidate, is also being mentioned as a possible at-large House candidate.

Gov. Dunleavy set the special election filing deadline for April 1. This means the field will form in the next few days. The regular election filing deadline is June 1. Those wanting to run in both the special and regular elections must file separately for both.

Confusion will likely rein on Aug. 16. While the June 11 special primary will be conducted through the mail, the Aug. 16 elections, the special general, and the regular congressional primary along with all other contests on the regular primary ballot, will be handled through the regular Alaska in-person early voting process that typically begins 15 days before the election, in this case, Aug. 1 (localities have some leeway as to the actual date voting can begin). Voting locations will be open through the final election day on Aug. 16.

Because the fields could be slightly different for the special and regular elections — it is common to see some candidates in these types of concurrent election situations bypass the special election and run only for the regular term — we could easily see a different group of four candidates advance into the special general as well as in the regular primary.

The Ranked Choice Voting System typically takes days to determine a winner since ballots must be separately isolated and counted, meaning the special general counting period could drag on into late August. The special election winner would then serve the balance of the current term, which will likely be only be about a month before the House adjourns in early October to prepare for the regular midterm elections on Nov. 8.

Expect formal special election candidate announcements coming in rapid fire soon after Young’s funeral, since the individuals must meet an April 1 special election filing deadline.

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