Who'll Win Alaska's Special Election? Not Elk, Polar Bear, Owl, Penguin. A Democratic Socialist?

Ready For Congressman Santa Claus?

Alaska has the most democratic electoral system of any state-- and the newest and most reformed. And, I have a feeling, it may cause the biggest-- and most wonderful-- surprise of the entire 2022 midterm cycle. Let's start with the basic-- how voting works in Alaska.

Two years ago, the state's voters approved a ballot initiative for ranked-choice voting and establishing a top-four jungle primary where everyone, regardless of political party runs. The top 4 no matter which party they're identifying with advance to the run-off (AKA- general election).

As of April 3, Alaska had 586,318 registered voters This is the breakdown among the significant parties and political groups (with over 2,000 voters registered):

  • Undeclared- 245,000

  • Republican- 142,170

  • Nonpartisan- 80,965

  • Democrat- 77,209

  • Alaska Independence Party- 18,725

  • Libertarian- 6,822

Notice that in theory at least, power in Alaska elections is in the hands of 325,965 undeclared and nonpartisan voters-- just over 55% of the voters. We're about to find out how that is going to play out in the new system when voters go to the polls on June 11 to pick 4 candidates for the congressional special election primary to pick a congressmember to fill the rest of Don Young's term. Keep in mind that a candidate needs a simple majority of the vote to instantly win the election.

In the August runoff, if no candidate wins a simple majority of votes cast-- and with 48 candidates, no one will-- the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and voters who selected that candidate as their first choice have their votes redistributed to their second choices. The elimination process and tabulation continues in rounds until a candidate receives a simple majority. And did I mention that the special is an all by-mail election?

The two established parties-- especially the Republicans are freaking out because it is obvious that Santa Claus is going to win, probably not on the first tabulation but as most people's second choices are counted, his 100% name recognition could get him to a majority before conservative front-runners Nick Begich III (R), Sarah Palin (R) and Al Gross (I). Three conservative politicians and one progressive, loved-based non-politician.

We'll come back to the special election in a moment. First let's look at this easy-to-understand video from KTOO and the Anchorage Daily News about how the new system works (although the dates aren't for the special congressional

This morning, the NY Times' Emily Cochrane, reporting from Anchorage, wrote that "[F]our separate elections in five months will determine [Don] Young’s successor. First, the throng of candidates will compete in a primary contest on June 11. The top four finishers will then advance in August to a special election to complete the remainder of Young’s term. That same August day, the candidates who choose to do so will compete in yet another primary to determine which four advance to the general election. And finally in November, voters will choose a winner to be sworn in in January 2023. The sheer volume of candidates owes in part to a new electoral system in Alaska, which opens primaries to all comers, regardless of political affiliation. Under the rules, voters can choose one candidate, and the four who draw the most votes then compete in a runoff of sorts, in which voters then rank their choices. The preferences are counted until someone secures a majority."

The broad field has roiled the close-knit political circles here, pitting longtime colleagues and friends against one another.
“This seat has been held for 49 years by one guy, and people are just hungry to have a different voice in Congress, and they think that they can add to it,” said John Coghill, a former state senator who is among the candidates.
It has also cracked the door open for a series of history-making bids, including four candidates who would be the first Alaska Native to represent a state where more than 15 percent of the population identifies as Indigenous.
...Begich, a [fascist-leaning Republican] whose grandfather of the same name held the seat as a Democrat until his disappearance in a plane crash in 1972, angered many in Young’s inner circle by jumping into the race in October as a challenger, dangling what they saw as insinuations that the congressman was too old.
The chosen candidate of the state Republican Party, Begich has disavowed the $1 trillion infrastructure bill Young proudly championed and the congressman’s penchant for earmarking federal dollars for Alaska.
“For too long, the formula in Alaska has been to sacrifice the good of the nation for the good of the state, and I don’t think that that’s a formula that we need to be practicing going forward,” Begich said in an interview.
Mr. Young’s allies have gravitated toward less conservative candidates.
Those include [former Young campaign co-chair] Tara Sweeney and Josh Revak, a state senator and an Iraq war veteran who secured a coveted endorsement from Young’s widow, Anne.
Palin’s late entry into the race-- and Trump’s near-immediate endorsement of her-- has further scrambled the political picture. As a former governor and vice-presidential candidate, Palin, whose campaign did not respond to requests for an interview, easily has the strongest name recognition in the field of candidates.
But she has also become a frequent target for candidates in both parties, as her rivals seek to weaponize her visibility in national headlines, stoke the lingering discontent in the state about her abrupt decision to leave the governor’s mansion in 2009 and woo the thousands of voters who have moved to Alaska since.
...Most observers here believe that Young’s seat is likely to remain in Republican hands given the state’s conservative slant, but the new ranked-choice system, which tends to advantage candidates in the center, could upend the conventional wisdom.
It could, for instance, help Al Gross, an independent who unsuccessfully challenged Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican, in 2020. Gross gained both national attention and some local derision with a viral campaign ad that dubbed him “Alaska’s own bear doctor.”
“Certainly this campaign is not about bears, and it is about Alaska,” Gross, a former orthopedic surgeon, said in an interview.
Unlike in 2020, when the Senate Democratic campaign arm endorsed him, he vowed to rebuff financial support from any major political party and said he planned to join the Problem Solvers Caucus, a [less-than-worthless] bipartisan group, should he win.
The Alaska Democratic Party has taken aim at him, calling Gross a “proven loser.”
Republicans have also unleashed a torrent of Christmas-themed attacks against Claus, a sign that there is at least some concern that the combination of his name recognition and his professed “affinity for Bernie Sanders” could help him prevail in a ranked-choice election. (Claus, who changed his name nearly two decades ago, often wears red robes of the monk’s order of which he is a member and plans to join the Congressional Cannabis Caucus if elected.)
“Whoever winds up in this special for that term, for the remainder of Don Young’s term, should be concentrating on representing all Alaskans then and there, not running for additional time in office and not spending time raising money or campaigning,” Claus said, adding that he was seeking only to finish Young’s term this year.
Citing concerns about the pandemic, Claus said he was limiting his in-person campaigning and soliciting electoral support virtually from his perch as a North Pole councilman.

In person voting began Friday and 258 people voted-- while 89,237 mailed in ballots had already been returned. Polling has consistently shown Begich, Palin, Gross and Claus as the most likely to go to the ranked choice runoff. The latest polling from Alaska Survey Research shows positives and negatives among the top 4 candidates like this:

  • Claus- 36% postive, 23% negative (+13)

  • Begich- 42% positive, 41% negative (+1)

  • Gross- 35% positive, 46% negative (-11)

  • Palin- 36% postive, 59% negative (-23)

Yesterday Claus, who emphasize Medicare for All, union solidarity (Pro Act), improving infrastructure, especially broadband, supporting Roe v Wade and restoring the Child Tax Credit, A2A rail service between Alaska and Alberta, LGBTQIA+ protections, new assault weapons legislation, addressing climate change issues and defense array capabilities in Alaska, protecting Bristol Bay's salmon fishery, ANWR, First People's sovereignty and forgiving student debt, tweeted Nadia Bolz-Weber's prayer for Memorial Day:

Dear Power Greater Than Myself,
power greater than my fears, greater than my hopes, greater than my limited understanding of life,
We have set this day aside to remember.
We remember those who died IN war.
Whose bravery was not enough to survive the battlefield.
But God, help us also remember those who died FROM war.
Whose bravery was not enough to survive the battlefield of their own post-traumatic minds.
Help us remember those who are still trying to survive wars long past.
Who no longer wear the uniform, but still bear the scars, seen and unseen.
Help us also remember those who died FOR war.
Children and mothers and bakers and doctors and people just walking to the grocery store, whose civilian status was not enough to keep them safe from mortar shells, and who do not have flags and parades in their honor.
May their memory be for blessing,
But may it also be for warning.
May their memory help us not forget the long, tangled cost of war, and to see in our own human hearts all the very things that led them to die.