Policy Alert: First Alaska Native Elected To Congress

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Democrat Mary Peltola. Photo: Ash Adams for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Last night, Mary Peltola (Yup’ik) became the first Alaska Native woman to be elected to the House of Representatives when she won a special election to fill the seat of late Congressman Don Young (R-AK). The unofficial results released by the Alaska Division of Elections yesterday show the newly elected Peltola defeating former Alaskan Governor and Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin for control of the seat for the remainder of 2022.


Peltola, a former state legislator who will become the first Alaskan Native elected to Congress, defeated Palin and another Republican, Nick Begich III. Overall, the special election contained more than 45 candidates running for Alaska’s “At Large” Congressional seat that had previously been held by Congressman Young for 49 years. The election was considered an upset by Peltola as it is the first time a Democrat has won a statewide race in Alaska since 2008. Former President Trump carried the 53% to President Biden’s 43% in the 2020 Presidential Election, while in 2020, Congressman Young won reelection 54% to 45% over challenger Alyse Galvin.

Peltola will join a historically large Native American contingent in the current Congress, which includes Rep. Tom Cole (Chickasaw, R-OK), Rep. Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk, D-KS), Rep. Yvette Herrell (Cherokee, R-NM), Rep. Kai Kahele (Kanaka Maoli, D-HI) and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (Cherokee, R-OK).

Another way this special election was unique is that it was also the first time the state used rank-choice voting. Despite the election taking place on August 16th, the results were only released on the 31st. In Alaska’s rank-choice voting system, voters were invited to rank the three candidates on the ballot in the order of their preference, rather than the usual one person, one vote. In the end, 40 percent of voters had chosen Peltola as their first choice, 31 percent had chosen Palin and 29 percent had chosen Republican businessman Nick Begich III. Under the rules of ranked-choice voting, Begich — as the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes and with no candidate receiving a majority of first-place votes — was then eliminated, and his votes were redistributed to whomever his voters ranked second.

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