AJ Schultz, Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong

Alaska voters returned incumbent Mike Dunleavy to the governor’s office, Mary Peltola to her U.S. House seat, and Lisa Murkowski to her seat in the U.S. Senate on Nov. 23, when ranked choice vote tabulation factored in second and third choice votes on top of the first choice counted on Election Day. A constitutional convention proposed in Ballot Measure 1 failed. The results show an unexpectedly strong performance from Democrats and non-partisan voters largely attributable to extraordinarily high Gen Z turnout. 

Across the nation, a predicted “red wave” failed to materialize as Democrats won upsets or held onto competitive races. In the U.S. Congress, Republicans control the House of Representatives by only seven votes. Democrats remain in control in the Senate.

This upset can be attributed to a variety of factors, but among the largest is the surge of voters between the ages of 18 and 24 breaking largely for progressive or moderate candidates nationwide. According to Edison Research, an estimated 27% of Gen Z turned out to vote on Election Day. This was the second highest turnout in over 20 years for this generation born after 1996. The Gen Z turnout greatly benefitted Democrats, as 63% of young voters cast ballots for for Democratic candidates, and 35% supported Republicans. 

Alaska’s Ranked Choice Voting: U.S. House 

In the race for Alaska’s sole U.S. House seat, incumbent Rep. Mary Peltola was helped by young voters to hold onto the seat she won in August’s special election to fill the remainder of Don Young’s term. Young died in March. 

“I’m thrilled to see an increase in younger voters,” Peltola told the Whalesong. “It’s great to see them getting engaged in the process. Our campaign benefitted from countless hours of volunteering from youth voters as well.” 

Peltola had three challengers, but Libertarian Chris Bye was eliminated in the first round with less than 2% of the votes. On Election Day, Republican opponents, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Republican Nick Begich, amassed 25% and 23% of the vote respectively.  Begich was eliminated in the second round of ranked choice voting, and at the end of the third, Peltola had 54.94% to Palin’s 45.06%.

In a press release after the results were announced, Palin said it was an honor to run for office in her home state, and offered “Congratulations to Rep. Mary Peltola and her family as this new chapter in their lives.” [sic].

Peltola is the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress, and the first Democrat to serve Alaska in the U.S. House since 1970.

U.S. Senate – Murkowski

Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski defeated Republican challengers Kelly Tshibaka and Buzz Kelley, and Democrat Pat Chesbro in ranked choice voting. Unlike Peltola, who held a steady lead over her opponents from Election Day, Murkowski trailed Tshibaka for two weeks before second and third choice votes pushed her to victory, with 53.69% of the vote to Tshibaka’s 46.31%. Kelley was eliminated in the first round and Chesbro in the second.

“I am honored that Alaskans – of all regions, backgrounds and party affiliations – have once again granted me their confidence to continue working with them and on their behalf in the U.S. Senate,” Murkowski said in a statement after her victory.

A second term for Dunleavy

The race for Alaska Governor was far less competitive, with incumbent Mike Dunleavy easily defeating former Gov. Bill Walker and former legislator Les Gara. Dunleavy was the only major candidate to earn more than 50 of the votes in the first round, compared to Gara and Walker’s combined 44%. 

“We congratulate Governor Dunleavy and our new Lt. Governor, Nancy Dahlstrom,” Gara and his running mate Jessica Cook said in a written statement following the election. “Both of us wish Mike and Nancy strength as they address daunting problems that face all of us, from struggling schools that impact student opportunity to silent but damaging crises, including the lack of affordable and accessible childcare, affordable housing, and a vastly inadequate mental health workforce that’s needed by children and adults living in crisis.”

Walker tweeted his congratulations to Dunleavy and Dahlstrom and others who prevailed in the election. “I’m encouraged to see the Senate organizing with a vow to protect the Permanent Fund and to represent the vast majority of Alaskans in the middle who appreciate compromise knowing it leads to progress and better representation for all,” Walker said. 

Ranked Choice Voting

Alaska’s new election system was approved by voters in 2020. When the Alaska Division of Elections televised final tabulation on Nov. 23, it allowed voters to see how the system works. According to Alaskans for Better Elections, 79% of voters found the new system simple to use, and most voters ranked a second and third choice candidate. 
While Alaska is often considered a red state, the Alaska Division of Elections indicates that 24 percent of registered voters are Republicans, Democrats comprise 13%, and unaffiliated voters total 58%.