Central Kenai Peninsula residents on Tuesday waved signs on street corners and streamed out of polling places wearing “I Voted” stickers as voters cast their ballots in the race for a new governor, seats in U.S. Congress and seats in the Alaska Legislature.
Candidates vying for seats in the U.S. Senate include incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Kelly Tshibaka. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Nick Begich III and Mary Peltola are vying to finish out the rest of the late Rep. Don Young’s term, which ends in Jan. 2023. Those three candidates, plus nearly 20 others, are also running for Alaska’s next two-year term in the U.S. House.
Locally, multiple candidates have their sights set on seats in the Alaska Legislature.
Tuckerman Babcock and Jesse Bjorkman are both running for the State Senate seat currently held by Peter Micciche, who is not running for reelection. That Senate district, formerly District O, is now District D under redistricting, which took place after the 2020 U.S. Census.
Justin Ruffridge is challenging incumbent Alaska Rep. Ron Gillham for the House District 7, formerly House District 30, seat. Incumbent Alaska Rep. Ben Carpenter is running unopposed for reelection to House District 8, formerly House District 29.
Across central peninsula polling locations on Tuesday, election participants shared their views on candidates, as well as the ranked choice voting system, which was tried out for the first time on the special general election ballot.
At the Kenai Mall, which served as the polling location for the Kenai No. 1 and 3 precincts, Priscilla Wilbur said that she voted for Nick Begich, Lisa Murkowski and Mary Peltola. Wilbur, who said she’s been voting since she was able, explained that access to abortion was a key issue for her in this race. That’s why she voted for Peltola, she said.
“I voted for her because she’s fighting for abortion rights,” Wilbur said. “I’m from a generation where women ruined themselves getting their own abortions, so I want them to be legal.”
On the other side of town, voters cast their ballots at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska, which hosted the Kenai No. 2 precinct. Voters Arlene Carver and Pat Falkenberg each said they were casting ballots for Sarah Palin.
Carver said her No. 1 issue was to vote against Murkowski and for Palin, whom Carver said she supports because Palin will “fight for what’s right for this state.”
“When she voted to impeach Trump, that did it for me,” Carver said of Murkowski.
Falkenberg, who also voted at the Kenai No. 2 precinct, said she wants Palin, Ron Gillham and Kelly Tshibaka to win their respective races and expressed opposition to the ranked choice voting system.
“I’m voting for the only person I want to win,” Falkenberg said.
Voters on Tuesday also got their first crack at ranked choice voting. Voters ranked Nick Begich III, Sarah Palin and Mary Peltola, who emerged as the top vote-getters from the special primary election, in order of preference for the special general election.
At both Kenai voting locations, gripes against ranked choice voting were regularly expressed by those coming and going. One man shouted as he walked out of the Challenger Learning Center that he only wants to vote for one person. Another man — who declined an interview as he entered the Kenai Mall — said as he was leaving, “I’ll tell you one thing, I hate ranked choice voting.”
Over in Soldotna, a cluster of folks braved the blustery weather to hold signs at the intersections of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways.
Braeden Garrett held signs supporting Alaska State House candidate Justin Ruffridge. Garrett described Ruffridge as “a close friend” who is rooted in the central peninsula community. He said he supports Ruffridge’s commitment to representing the concerns of constituents if elected to the Legislature.
Across the street, Queen Parker was advocating for a variety of candidates, including Ron Gillham, the incumbent representative Ruffridge is challenging. She and others held signs supporting Gillham, Charlie Pierce, Kelly Tshibaka and Tuckerman Babcock. Parker said energy independence and an anti-abortion stance are among the issues she looks for in a candidate.
“The biggest thing is watching someone’s track record,” Parker said.
At the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, where voters in the Central and K-Beach precincts cast ballots, poll workers Carol Louthan and Harmony Bolden reported a “steady” stream of voters coming in and out of the building. Redistricting, they said, put more voters in their precinct — nearly 500 people had cast ballots in the central precinct by around 3 p.m. Tuesday.
“We had all of the booths filled at one time,” Louthan said. “We’re glad we put in a couple extra ones.”
Bolden, who helped voters feed their ballots into the tabulation machine, said there was less trouble with ranked choice voting than she expected. Sample ballots were made available for voters to look at before heading into the voting booth, Bolden said, and there were also posters inside the booth that explained the process.
“The machine is really smart too,” Bolden said of the tabulator, which kicks back ballots it thinks may have an error.
Overall, Louthan said voters seem to know what they’re doing.
“The voters are informed and coming in prepared,” she said.
Because there are fewer than four candidates running for the central peninsula’s seats in the Alaska Legislature, Babcock, Bjorkman, Carpenter, Gillham and Ruffridge will all advance to the regular general election on Nov. 8.
Unofficial preliminary election results can be viewed on the Alaska Division of Elections website at elections.alaska.gov.