Special election process approaches to fill late Rep. Don Young’s House seat

Published: Mar. 22, 2022 at 11:48 AM AKDT|Updated: Mar. 22, 2022 at 3:11 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer along with Gov. Mike Dunleavy laid out the state’s process for holding a special election on Tuesday, four days after the passing of longtime Congressman Don Young.

In a news conference that addressed the special election for Alaska’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Dunleavy and his staff said that two special elections will be held this summer — an open, nonpartisan primary on June 11, followed by a general election on Aug. 16.

The candidate filing deadline for the June special primary will be 5 p.m. on April 1. The deadline to be registered to vote in the special primary is 30 days before that June 11 election.

The special primary election will be held as vote-by-mail only, and will determine the top four names that will be listed in the special general election, which will be a ranked-choice ballot, the first in Alaska.

Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said the vote-by-mail method in the special primary is being done to alleviate current paper and labor shortages that would make in-person voting a difficult task.

Young, who had held the seat since 1973, died Friday at the age of 88, leaving Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat vacant.

Meyer explained that according to state law, a special primary election must be held between 60 and 90 days from the governor’s proclamation of the special election process. He also said that the special general election must be held on the first Tuesday after 60 days pass from the primary.

Meyer said that the primary’s main purpose is to determine the top four candidates for the ranked-choice general election in August, in order to avoid having an extraordinarily large number of candidates on the ballot.

So far, Democrat Christopher Constant and Republican Nick Begich III have both confirmed they will run in the special election to fill Young’s seat. Both had previously announced plans to run for the seat before Young died.

Deputy Attorney General Cori Mills, when asked if two special elections are necessary to determine a replacement for Young, said the prior election law allowed for just one election, but also could have resulted in two elections anyway, due to the possibility of the top candidate getting less than 50% of the vote. Alaskan voters decided in Nov. 2020 to use a ranked-choice voting system.

Mills also answered a question about a possible period of vacancy for Alaska’s U.S. House representation, saying there will be no representative for Alaska until results are officially certified, and that the winner will take office the next day that the U.S. Congress convenes.

“The sooner you have representation, the better off we’ll be,” Dunleavy added.

The special election is preceded by a proclamation from the governor, which Dunleavy said would be issued later Tuesday or Wednesday morning at the latest.

Meyer noted that the Aug. 16 special general election will overlap with the regular primary election. The ballot will include both the normal primary candidates and the special general election candidates.

“We can put all those on one ballot,” he said.

Meyer also noted that the special general election for Young’s seat combined with the regular primary on Aug. 16 will be the first opportunity “for people to see how this ranked-choice voting is going to work.”

“It may be a little bit confusing because you’re going to go in for the open primary, but then also you’re going to then (do) ranked choice for the ... special general election,” he said. “... Ranked choice is new to all of us, and Gail Fenumiai is trying to educate and inform people on how this process works.”

For more information on ranked-choice voting, visit the state’s elections website.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information and quotes.

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