Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and her Republican challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, will have to wait weeks to know the outcome of their election. (Photo: Getty Images)
The polls closed Tuesday night, but Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and her Republican challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, will have to wait weeks to see who won their election under their state’s new system of ranked choice voting.
In Alaska’s new system, which voters approved in 2020, Tuesday’s election functioned as an instant runoff. Voters ranked their top four candidates for the Senate seat ― regardless of party affiliation ― in the order they wanted them to win. The first candidate who gets a majority of the vote wins. If nobody gets more than 50% of the vote in the first round, people’s second, third and fourth choices are factored in until someone gets to 50%.
All ballots have to be returned before the state can move forward with this process. Since Alaska is so big and lots of people rely on mail-in ballots to vote, state officials will count all ballots postmarked by Election Day if they arrive up to 10 days after the election. That means election officials aren’t expected to finish counting ballots for up to two weeks, at which point the ranked choice voting system will kick into action.
Alaska’s Division of Elections expects that the state’s ranked choice voting results won’t be available until Nov. 23.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Tshibaka held a slight edge over Murkowski in the early, first-choice votes being tabulated. Well below both of them, Democrat Pat Chesbro and Republican Buzz Kelley picked up votes, too. But none of this means much at this stage, since no candidate is close to the 50% threshold.
Murkowski, who is vying for her fourth term in the Senate, consistently led in the polls against Tshibaka, who previously ran the state’s Department of Administration.
Their race has been playing out nationally as a proxy fight between former President Donald Trump and his critics. Trump has been vowing to unseat Murkowski ever since she was one of seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict him for inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. He endorsed Tshibaka, a far-right social conservative who once wrote in support of an ex-gay organization and warned of the evils of addictive witchcraft.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is no fan of Trump’s, directed millions of dollars into the state to support Murkowski.
Murkowski certainly benefits from the state’s new election system. She regularly wins her elections by catering to a broad base of moderate Republicans, independents and Democrats. In this year’s primary, all she had to do to advance was be one of the four top vote-getters. And in Tuesday’s election, she was well-positioned to pick up more votes across party lines as voters’ second- and third-ranked choices are factored in.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.