Across the Kenai Peninsula on Monday, voters cast the first in-person ballots in the borough’s municipal election, which is scheduled for Oct. 6.
In-person absentee voting, which started Monday, will be conducted at six polling locations in the borough and must be done between now and Election Day. Polling locations are located in Soldotna, Homer, Kenai, Seldovia and Seward. All but one location is open Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but ballot styles offered differ at each location.
Nationwide, conversations surrounding safe voting practices during elections continue to be held as states figure out how to make the process safe in response to COVID-19.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship said additional measures are being taken to ensure the in-person voting process is safe. According to the borough’s election site, poll workers will be provided with face coverings and disposable gloves, common touch points will be regularly wiped down with disinfectant, hand sanitizer will be offered to all voters upon entering and exiting the voting location and floor decals will help encourage physical distancing while in line.
The borough has seen a significant increase in the number of voters opting to vote by mail. Last year, Blankenship said, about 400 individuals opted to vote by mail. This year, the borough has received more than 3,200 applications and has already mailed out about 3,000 ballots. In the City of Kenai, Deputy City Clerk Jacquelyn LaPlante said they’ve received 267 mail-in ballot applications, compared with about 50 last year.
LaPlante, who was working at the Kenai polling location on Monday afternoon, said that she’d already assisted 15 voters that day, most of them elderly.
The polling location has also been modified, LaPlante said. In addition to COVID-19-related signage placed on the wall, each table only has one tabletop voting booth, as opposed to two. Additionally, each voter is allowed to keep their pen so that they do not need to be sanitized between voters. There are also chairs lining the wall across from LaPlante’s desk where people may wait to vote. A large metal ballot box sits on her desk, where voters drop completed ballots. LaPlante said that while voters are encouraged to wear masks, they are not required to.
LaPlante said she felt the protocols adequately addressed her COVID-19 concerns due to the low number of people in the polling location.
“Our space isn’t as small for the little traffic that we’re getting, it’s not as much of a concern, whereas if we were having a high volume of traffic then it’d be more concerning trying to keep the distancing and sanitize fast enough,” LaPlante said, adding that they also have the option of expanding into the nearby city council chambers if space becomes an issue.
Election day is Oct. 6.