Higher voter turnout and high spirits among candidates marked Election Day on the central peninsula. Residents throughout Kenai and Soldotna ventured into snowy conditions to make their voices heard, whether at the ballot box or on street corners.
At around 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Alaska Legislature candidates Jesse Bjorkman, running for state Senate, and Justin Ruffridge, running for state House, were waving signs at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways. Bjorkman, alongside his wife, Jamie, and daughter, Brinna, said there was a lot of positivity and “good vibes” going on.
“We’re feeling really good,” Bjorkman said. “We’re getting a good response.”
Bjorkman, who said he and Jamie voted absentee, said that while voters will get the final say on who the best candidate is, he’s “comfortable” with his policy platform, which he said emphasized fiscal stability, good roads, education and public safety.
Across the street, Alaska State House candidate Justin Ruffridge was waving signs with Larry Opperman. Opperman, of Soldotna, said he met Ruffridge at Brew 602, where the candidate hosted Talks at the Train meet-and-greets throughout the election season. Opperman said open communication with constituents is important to him in a candidate.
“Everything he said made sense,” Opperman said of Ruffridge. “What I mean by that is he wasn’t really radical on anything, you know? He wasn’t really so far to the left or the right. He made common sense on everything he’s talking about.”
Ruffridge said he’s more “pessimistic” than his supporters about the outcome of the race, but that he thinks the race will come down to which candidate continuously shows up.
“This is a job interview and your job is to represent a large group of people,” Ruffridge said. “To do that you have to speak to those people. You have to show up to where they are … You have to be willing to speak on issues, you have to be willing to disagree with somebody and do so civilly. All those things are what I categorized as just showing up.”
Over in Kenai, spirits were high for Ron Gillham, who was waving signs with his family. He’s running against Ruffridge for reelection to the Alaska House and said at about 2 p.m. that he was feeling good. He said he had been waving signs since 7 a.m., and that he would remain until the daylight was gone. He only took one break — to go and vote.
“We’re getting a lot of positive reactions from people going by,” Gillham said, as a car driving through the intersection backfired. “We do get some people like that. At least it wasn’t a gunshot.”
On the same corner, Michael O’Rourke held signs for Ruffridge and Bjorkman. He said he had never stood on the corner to support a candidate before, but that he was out waving signs because he wanted to see political action
“Actually getting things done, being able to work across boards or across party lines,” O’Rourke said. “I want someone to actually get things accomplished rather than just being against things.”
Tuesday’s enthusiasm among voters and candidates came as poll workers reported steady turnout.
Poll worker Carol Louthan, who was helping run the K-Beach precinct at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, said there were people lined up to vote before the polling location opened at 7 a.m. At around 3 p.m., more than 500 people had already cast ballots at the precinct, which Louthan said made the day “really busy.”
“We’ve had a line to the door several times,” Louthan said. “ … It’s a good turnout.”
She attributed the high turnout to what was on the ballot: a U.S. House and U.S. Senate race on top of a gubernatorial race, the constitutional convention question and local legislative races. In Kenai, poll workers had similar thoughts. Darlene Merlo, who was helping run the Kenai No. 2 precinct at the Challenger Learning Center, said that more than 200 had come through by 2 p.m.
“I think it’s the issues (and) the people that are running,” Merlo said. “Everybody’s kind of tired and (wants) to get this over with. I think they just want to vote and have (had) enough of this publicity.”
Joan Seaman, who was helping run the Kenai No. 1 precinct, agreed. More than 400 people had already cast ballots at that precinct as of about 2 p.m. She was confident that the slushy weather conditions would not affect local turnout.
“There’s a lot of issues that are important,” she said. “They’re out voting and getting their voices heard.”
Something voters weren’t too thrilled about, however, was ranked choice voting.
“They don’t like it,” said K-Beach precinct chair Kathy Carson.
Poll workers at that precinct reported 29 spoiled ballots at around 3 p.m. That number had jumped to 32 about 10 minutes later. Spoiled ballots refer to those ballots that are not cast, usually because a voter made a mistake and needs a new ballot. Poll workers said the number of spoiled ballots was higher than usual.
Louthan, who said she’s been helping run elections in Alaska for more than 10 years, said their day will probably finish around 2 a.m. on Wednesday. She said the process of securing and turning in election materials, though, gives her confidence in Alaska’s election system.
“I’m really proud of Alaska — how they do their elections,” Louthan said. “I just feel it’s secure.”
Polls in Alaska closed Tuesday at 8 p.m. The target certification date for Alaska’s Nov. 8 general election is Nov. 29, according to the Alaska Division of Elections.
Reach reporters Ashlyn O’Hara and Jake Dye at firstname.lastname@example.org.