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Alaska voters are casting ballots in two separate elections for the same seat. Here’s how it works

<i>AP/Getty Images</i><br/>Voters in Alaska on August 16 are voting in two separate elections for the same US House seat -- the state's at-large congressional district seat.
AP/Getty Images
Voters in Alaska on August 16 are voting in two separate elections for the same US House seat -- the state's at-large congressional district seat.

By Rachel Janfaza, Ethan Cohen and Eric Bradner, CNN

Voters in Alaska on Tuesday are voting in two separate elections for the same US House seat — the state’s at-large congressional district seat.

That’s because there’s both a special general election to fill the remainder of the late Rep. Don Young’s term and a primary election to decide who will compete in November for the seat’s next full term starting in January.

It’s a complicated process. Beyond voting for the same seat twice in one day, different rules apply to the special general and primary elections.

What will happen in the special general election?

The special general election will be the first time that Alaska will use ranked choice voting — which will see voters rank their preferred candidates, with the votes for the lowest-finishing candidates coming into play if no one tops 50% — to determine who will fill the remainder of Young’s term. If no one reaches that threshold, it’ll be a while until we know the winner, with the ranked choice voting tabulation scheduled to begin on August 31.

What will happen in the primary?

The primary will use a top-four system, which means that candidates of all parties, and those with no party affiliation, run on the same primary ballot — just as candidates did for the special election’s primary earlier this year. The top four performing candidates will then advance to the November general election for the full term.

Why is this happening?

Young’s death led to the special election. He held the seat for 49 years, and following his death, there was a crowded field of 48 candidates who competed in the June special primary election for the seat.

Alaskan officials set the special general election to take place on the same day as the already scheduled primary.

Who is running in the special general election?

While four candidates advanced to the special general, only three candidates are on the ballot, after independent candidate Al Gross withdrew from the race.

On the ballot: former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin; Republican Nick Begich III, who won the Alaska Republican Party’s endorsement in April and is the product of a powerful Alaska political family; and former Democratic state Rep. Mary Peltola.

Palin’s attempt at a political comeback comes 13 years after she resigned the Alaska governor’s office in 2009 during her only term. Since then, she has been a conservative media figure and has endorsed and campaigned with various Republican candidates, but she has been largely detached from Alaska politics.

Rival candidates and political observers in the state say the ranked choice voting process could hurt Palin’s chances in the general election. She’s the best-known candidate in the race by far, and has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, who carried Alaska by 10 points in 2020. But Palin also faces opposition from voters still angry that she quit the governor’s office.

Who is running in the primary?

Palin, Begich and Peltola are also on the ballot for the regular primary Tuesday, along with 19 other candidates.

When are polls open?

Polls in Alaska are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. local time, but all Alaska voters can vote by mail. Mail ballots must be postmarked by Aug. 16 and received by Aug. 26.

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