People vote in polling booths at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

People vote in polling booths at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

3 cities oppose alignment of borough, state election days

The Soldotna City Council on Wednesday became the latest group to object to the proposed alignment

The Soldotna City Council on Wednesday became the latest municipal group to oppose the proposed alignment of Kenai Peninsula Borough and state election dates.

Along with Seward and Homer, Soldotna now formally opposes a resolution sponsored by Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly member Richard Derkevorkian, which proposes moving the borough’s regular election date from October to November such that it would align with state and local elections.

Derkevorkian’s resolution, if passed, would put the question of whether or not to move the election day before borough voters during the Oct. 3 municipal election. The vote by borough residents would only be advisory, and would initiate a process through which the borough would further analyze what it would look like to implement the date change.

In proposing the date change, Derkevorkian has said he hopes to boost voter turnout in local elections and gauge the level of public interest in the move. Assembly members at the group’s July 11 meeting voted to postpone a vote on the resolution until Aug. 1, to give cities more time to share their thoughts on what the change would mean for their residents.

Soldotna council members on Wednesday passed a resolution opposing the change in election days. The council’s resolution says that the city in 2021, along with four other Kenai Peninsula Borough cities, signed a memorandum of understanding with the borough outlining how cities and the borough will work together to administer local elections.

Moving the borough’s election date, the Soldotna resolution says, would require Soldotna to also move its election date or to purchase its own voting equipment with “unbudgeted tax revenues” to continue holding elections in October. The resolution estimates it would cost about $19,000 to purchase election equipment for Soldotna’s sole precinct.

The Soldotna resolution further responds directly to some of the “pro” and “con” statements made by Derkevorkian in a memo accompanying the borough legislation. It says, for example, that local elections already see higher turnout in years where there is also a state or federal election, regardless of what day the elections fall on.

“KPB Resolution 2023-048 fails to consider the full impacts of this change and currently does not provide for adequate education to the voters that would be voting on the advisory question,” the Soldotna resolution says.

Soldotna’s statement of opposition to the assembly resolution came days after two other Kenai Peninsula city councils made similar declarations.

Both the Homer and Seward city councils on Monday formally stated their respective city’s opposition to the proposed change of date, citing the cost to cities of purchasing their own election materials and concerns about finding enough people to staff polls.

Seward Acting City Manager Norm Regis wrote in an action memorandum to Seward City Council members that shifting the borough election date to November would require the City of Seward to either also move their city election day to November or to purchase its own voting machines.

Further, Regis wrote that the change in date would require Seward to compete with the state for poll workers and said the assembly resolution is “very unclear” about what would happen if borough voters support moving the election date.

“The resolution mentions that an ordinance ‘could be introduced’ but provides voters no guarantee that it will be introduced,” Regis wrote. “The resolution does not assure voters that if they vote in favor of this change that the election would indeed be changed.”

In Homer, council members passed a resolution that asks borough assembly members not to change the election date and says there should be more collaboration between the borough and local governments before voters make a decision on the issue.

Council members are also concerned about finding enough workers to staff concurrent elections and the cost that may be incurred by having to purchase their own voting equipment.

“Homer City Council agrees with the KPB Assembly that voter turnout at Borough elections could be higher and that working together to explore the full range of methods to increase voter turnout should be investigated collaboratively,” the resolution says. “Homer City Council believes that the coordination should occur before any advisory proposition so that voters are accurately informed about the ramifications of measures proposed to increase voter turnout.”

In lieu of moving the borough’s election date from October to November as a way to boost voter turnout, the Homer resolution suggests the borough work with a designated group tasked with exploring ways to increase turnout.

A separate borough resolution, also being considered Tuesday, would do exactly that.

Assembly Vice President Tyson Cox and assembly member Brent Hibbert are the co-sponsors of legislation that would establish a borough working group that would “explore actionable options and ideas” intended to increase awareness of and participation in local elections.

Cox and Hibbert wrote in a July 20 memo to assembly members that they brought the resolution forward in response to public comments the assembly received on the proposal to change the election date. Creation of a voter turnout working group, they wrote, would be instead of changing the borough election date.

“Changing the Borough ‘s regular election date should be considered, but not as a cure all for our dismal local election voter turnout,” they wrote. “It should be considered as a part of the possible solution as there may be other actionable items that can assist or even outproduce an election date change when considering cost, functionality, and the increased voter participation from such changes for both even and odd years.”

Across all precincts, roughly 18.2% of borough voters cast ballots in the most recent regular borough election, which was held on Oct. 4, 2022. Turnout at individual precincts ranged from 2.1% in Tyonek to 29.6% in Cooper Landing. That’s compared to turnout during the Nov. 8 general election, where turnout at the same precincts was 6.4% and 35.5%, respectively.

As proposed, the borough working group would be composed of 14 people including city clerks, members of the borough’s canvass board, a community member qualified to represent the interests of disabled voters and a member of the League of Women Voters, among others.

The group would meet at least three times and ultimately provide suggestions for boosting voter turnout in a report to the assembly. Both the resolution asking voters whether to move the borough’s election date and the resolution establishing a voter turnout working group will be considered by assembly members Tuesday.

Tuesday’s assembly meeting will be available to stream on the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s website at kpb.legistar.com.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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