Teresa Minnich, right, waits to help voters feed their ballot into a tabulation machine at Soldotna Prep School on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Teresa Minnich, right, waits to help voters feed their ballot into a tabulation machine at Soldotna Prep School on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Micciche leads mayor’s race

Election workers reported sluggish voter turnout

Former Alaska Senate President Peter Micciche is leading in the race to become the next mayor of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, election results show.

As of about 10:20 p.m., 27 of the borough’s 28 precincts — 96.4% — had reported results. With 5,004 votes counted, Micciche has received 2,526 — approximately 50.5%. That’s as compared to the next highest vote-getter, Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings, who received just over 870, Dave Carey, who received more than 550 votes and Zachary Hamilton, who received more than 240. There were more than 800 unresolved write-in votes cast.

At the same time on Tuesday, results had not yet been reported for Tyonek, which has a little under 400 registered voters according to previous borough election data. The borough had also not reported results for the ‘absentee’ precinct.

Kenai Peninsula Borough code requires mayors to be elected with a majority of votes cast. Only if no candidate receives a majority of votes — more than 50% — do the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff election, which the borough assembly scheduled, if needed, for March 7. Assembly members are scheduled to certify the results of the special mayoral election during their Feb. 21 meeting.

Micciche, who is also a former mayor of Soldotna, saw large margins in many central peninsula precincts, such as Nikiski, where he received more than 70% of votes, Seward, where he received more than 61% of votes, Soldotna, where he received more than 56% of votes.

Earlier that morning, Micciche could be seen staking signs into snowbanks at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways. The snowy intersection was dotted with signs bearing the names of both Micciche and Farnsworth-Hutchings on all corners.

Tuesday was blustery on the central peninsula, with voters braving intermittent snow and heavy winds to cast ballots. At precincts across the Kenai Peninsula, poll workers reported sluggish turnout — the borough has so far reported voter turnout of about 7% across all precincts that have reported.

Teresa Minnich was chairing the Mackey Lake precinct at Soldotna Prep School on Tuesday. She’s been helping people vote for more than 30 years and was joined at the precinct Tuesday by her daughter and grandson, who are also election workers.

As of around 1 p.m., 82 of the precinct’s roughly 2,400 voters had cast ballots.

Minnich said she thinks turnout was affected by Tuesday’s blustery weather, the fact that the election was held on Valentine’s Day and the presence of only one race on the ballot. Some snowbirds, she said, may have also voted absentee instead of casting ballots in person.

Generally, Minnich said more voters tend to come in during lunchtime — between 12-1 p.m. — and after school lets out.

“We’re certainly hoping for a few more people than what we’ve got,” Minnich said.

In Kenai, election workers reported similar experiences.

Carol Freas was staffing the Kenai No. 1 precinct on Tuesday, where about 75 ballots had been cast at around 1 p.m. She said some of the precinct’s voting signs were blown down by wind and said it makes sense that turnout is slow for a special election held during the winter, when snowbirds are gone.

“It was really slow, but it’s getting better during the day,” Freas said.

At Kenai Precinct No. 2, located inside the Challenger Learning Center, election worker Barb Norbeck said, while yawning, that turnout so far was “quiet.” She also suspects turnout was affected by weather, but maybe by the potential for a runoff election as well.

“It’s possible that our weather conditions are something keeping people back,” Norbeck said. “Maybe because we are going to end up with a runoff, folks are gonna say, ‘Well, that’s the one I’ve gotta hit.”

Only 40 voters had cast ballots at the Challenger Learning Center as of 1 p.m., though Norbeck said more young voters than usual were participating.

“That is encouraging to me,” Norbeck said.

Election results can be viewed by precinct at kpb.us/assembly-clerk/elections/election-results.

Reach Peninsula Clarion reporters at news@peninsulaclarion.com.

This article was updated at 12:40 a.m. to reflect current vote totals for Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings.

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