Democrat Mary Peltola won a special election Wednesday night and will become the first Alaska Native in Congress. Photo courtesy Mary Peltola/Twitter
Sept. 1 (UPI) -- Democrat Mary Peltola won a special election Wednesday to become the first Alaska Native in Congress, in an upset victory over former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Peltola finished fourth out of 48 candidates in a nonpartisan primary in June, securing the final spot in Wednesday's special election, but emerged victorious over Palin, a former Republican vice presidential candidate, in the second round of the state's first ranked-choice vote with 51.47% of the vote to Plain's 48.53%.
"It's a GOOD DAY," Peltola wrote on Twitter. "We've won tonight, but we're still going to have to hold this seat in November."
Peltola is a member of Alaska's Yup'ik indigenous group and served in the state House of Representatives from 1999 until 2009.
She will take over the seat left open by Rep. Don Young, a Republican who held the office for nearly five decades before he died in March at the age of 88, and will become the first Democrat to join Alaska's three-person Congressional delegation since Sen. Mark Begich lost re-election in 2014.
"What's most important is that I'm an Alaskan being sent to represent all Alaskans," Peltola said after the results came in.
The special election was the first since a 2020 ballot measure implemented ranked-choice voting in the state.
Independent Al Gross dropped out of the race ahead of the first round, leaving just Peltola, Palin and Republican Nick Begich III, the nephew of Mark Begich and grandson of former U.S. Rep. Nick Begich.
No candidate won 50% of the vote in the first round on Aug. 16, with Peltola leading the pack with 40.2%, followed by Palin at 31.28%. Begich placed last with 28.52% and was eliminated from the race, setting up Wednesday's contest.
Following her defeat on Wednesday, Palin said that ranked-choice voting was a "mistake" for Alaska.
"Ranked-choice voting was sold as the way to make elections better reflect the will of the people. As Alaska -- and America -- now sees, the exact opposite is true," she said. "Though we're disappointed in this outcome, Alaskans know I'm the last one who'll ever retreat. Instead, I'm going to reload."
Begich, who will be back on the ballot alongside Peltola and Palin to seek a full term in November, congratulated Peltola but took a shot at his fellow Republican Wednesday night, saying that Palin "cannot win a statewide race because her unfavorable rating is so high."
"The biggest lesson as we move into the 2022 General Election, is that ranked-choice voting showed that a vote for Sarah Palin is in reality a vote for Mary Peltola. Palin simply doesn't have enough support from Alaskans to win an election," Begich said. "As we look forward to the November election, I will work hard to earn the vote of Alaskans all across the state."