Local races were tight Tuesday night as waves of municipal election results rolled in from around the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Though polls closed at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, some Kenai precincts had not reported results until well after 10 p.m.
In Soldotna, unofficial results showed Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings, running unopposed, winning Seat A on the city council. Dan Nelson was leading incumbent Erick Hugarte by just over 50 votes, while Micah Shields was leading Jordan Chilson by just one vote.
For Kenai City Council, as of 11 p.m. Tuesday, Deborah Sounart and James Baisden were the top two vote-getters in a five-way race, with 302 and 279 votes respectively.
Matt Morse handily won reelection to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education’s Kenai seat, while Jennifer Waller pulled ahead of Benjamin Miller for the board’s Sterling/Funny River seat.
The results reported Tuesday night are unofficial and do not include absentee and questioned ballots.
On Tuesday afternoon, voter traffic seemed sluggish.
At Soldotna Prep School, things were moving slowly. The site hosted the borough’s Mackey Lake and Funny River No. 2 precincts, but hadn’t seen a lot of action at around 12:30 p.m. On the Mackey Lake side, eight people — out of the precinct’s roughly 1,400 voters — had cast ballots. The Funny River No. 2 workers on the other side of the room boasted that they had just hit double-digits for the number of ballots cast.
Poll worker Teressa Minnich, who was working on the Mackey Lake side, said she felt like there was less attention given to this year’s municipal election. Even driving around town, she said, she feels like she hasn’t seen as many campaign signs as she’s used to.
“(The election) has not been broadcast very wide,” Minnich said.
Things were similarly slow at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, which hosted the borough’s Central and K-Beach precincts. Poll workers Anna Traylor, Cindy Newby, Jan Morrison, Janet Stacy and Memphis Lyon staffed the Central precinct, where 27 people had cast ballots at about 1 p.m.
“We had four people in here at one time and two more right after them,” Stacy said. “That was our big rush so far.”
New to borough elections this year was the availability of voting equipment that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was made available at every precinct. The borough introduced the equipment in response to a complaint filed with the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights by a voter who alleged that the borough discriminated against him by failing to provide a voting machine that accommodated his vision disability during the 2015 municipal election.
The new equipment includes a ballot marker, which resembles a big iPad, hand controls marked with braille and printers that print the marked ballot once completed. Printed ballots are then run through the tabulation machine.
Poll workers at the Central, Funny River No. 2 and Mackey Lake precincts said no voters had used the new equipment yet, but that the system was easy to learn.
“It was not very difficult to learn,” Minnich said.
Voter traffic at Kenai precincts was also slow Tuesday afternoon.
Sharon Efta was working polls at Kenai No. 3, where 62 of the precinct’s roughly 1,500 registered voters had cast ballots at 1:30 p.m. Efta said the precinct saw a slow wave of voters Tuesday morning, which she said was likely due to the fact that there is no general election this year.
Carol Freas, who was working at the Kenai No. 1 precinct, said that even though there weren’t any resolutions on the ballot, people were still turning up to vote for contested seats. The precinct includes just over 3,000 registered voters. She was the city clerk in Kenai for 21 years, and has been working the polls for 10.
“For the city of Kenai, it’s been a long time I think since there have been that many candidates for two positions,” Freas said.
Initially Freas said the new voting machines had to be adjusted, but that they worked well overall.
“Now it’s working just very nicely,” she said, noting that the intake and ballot scan takes a little longer than what people are used to during the previous years.
Poll workers at the Kenai No. 2 precinct said they would be working around 16 hours Tuesday — from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. — or until every ballot cast was accounted for.
Susan Smalley, who was also working at Kenai No. 2, said the system has changed since she started as an election official over 40 years ago.
“I just think people think people don’t have as much trust in the process,” she said. “There has been a shift.”
Smalley there were general concerns among voters Tuesday about the new voting equipment. She said the new machines don’t transmit voter information until they are transported back to city and borough officials.
“It’s kind of a challenge, as the distrust has been promulgated really well,” she said.
Barbara Norbeck, who was working at the Kenai No. 2 precinct, said they averaged about 10 voters per hour into the early afternoon. Seventy-six ballots had been cast by early afternoon Tuesday, out of approximately 1,700 registered voters.
“This is light,” she said. “I’m not seeing huge, overwhelming numbers.”
Norbeck, a veteran poll worker, said most of the people who voted Tuesday were older in age, though some younger voters turned out, too. She said she’d like to see more young people volunteer to work at polls, a job she said allows participation in the public process.
“I don’t mind doing my civic duty,” she said. “So this works.”
Certification of municipal election results is scheduled for later this month. The Kenai Peninsula Borough is scheduled to certify borough election results on Oct. 12. The City of Kenai is scheduled to certify Kenai’s election results on Oct. 20.