As cars flew through the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways around noon on Election Day, about half of the drivers honked or offered a thumbs-up to the people standing on the corner with signs for Libertarian Senate candidate Joe Miller and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Jim Rice, wearing Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” hat, and Jesse James, who bore signs for both Miller and Trump, said they’d been out for a few hours and had been getting a lot of support. James said he supported Miller in 2012 when he ran against incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski. At this point in the election, sign-waving won’t likely change anyone’s minds, but it may help support people who are planning to vote, he said.
“It’s nice to know there’s someone else out there (voting the same way),” James said.
Rice, who said he’s been behind Trump since “he came down the escalator,” said it could be a good reminder for people driving by, too.
“Maybe people see it and say, ‘Oh yeah, I should go (vote),” he said.
Rice and James weren’t alone. The Soldotna Y was cluttered with sign-wielding supporters throughout the day Tuesday. Polling locations on the Kenai Peninsula were no less packed, even those with generally low turnout.
The presidential race between Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was the biggest thing on voters’ minds Tuesday. Sean McBride of Soldotna said he thought the presidential election was a polarizing one for many people.
“People feel like they are voting against the candidate, not really for (the one they support),” he said.
Some voters said they voted for Trump less out of their preference for him and more out of their dislike for Clinton. Katherine Marshall said she has been particularly unhappy with the Obama administration as well as with Clinton as she exited the polling place in Sterling.
“I’ve lived long enough that we don’t have any more Kennedys and Trumans, you know?” Marshall said. “So I’m hoping that Donald Trump makes it, and if he does (that) he doesn’t get us blown up or something. He’s pretty radical.”
A self-described nonpartisan, John Howland of Kenai said he was making a “lesser of two evils” choice, but taking a longer perspective, he was optimistic.
“I think it’s a good call for Americans to wake up to how it’s done,” Howland said, referring to the electoral process. “Whatever happens, I think it’s good, in terms of the response we’re getting from people’s emotions.”
Voters in Nikiski and Sterling also favored Trump. Richard Marquez of Nikiski said he thinks Trump would do an OK job as president.
“He’s more for the military than Hillary,” Marquez said. “I served in the Marine Corps so it made a lot of difference (for me).”
While not many voters commented on the local State Senate and House of Representatives elections, they seemed to have mixed feelings when it came to the U.S. Senate race between Republican Lisa Murkowski, Libertarian Joe Miller, independent Margaret Stock and Democrat Ray Metcalfe.
Some stuck with Murkowski, saying they share similar views with her or that she has done a good job so far. Others said their support went to Miller because they feel it’s time for a change.
It was not necessarily an easy decision for Coleen Bowers of Nikiski.
“I think change has got to start locally, and our state has always led the way with change and being a pioneer,” she said. “I like Lisa in that she’s always been strong for veterans, and my husband’s a veteran. And that’s the one good thing that I know about Lisa that I didn’t know about Joe. I didn’t know that about him, but I liked his openness and (the fact that he’s) willing to say we need change.”
Another Kenai resident, Gary Cook, said he voted for the entire Democratic ticket, except for the U.S. Senate race, where he voted for Stock. He wasn’t optimistic, though, about her chances against Murkowski.
“Unfortunately I think (Stock and Metcalfe) are going to split the Democratic vote and guarantee that Murkowski is re-elected, who in my opinion is worthless as a senator,” Cook said. “I think Murkowski’s going to win re-election. I was hoping that Miller would split the vote and that a Democrat would get in, but I think that with Metcalfe and Stock running, that splits the Democratic vote, unfortunately.”
When it came to the race between longtime U.S. House Representative Don Young and his challengers, Democrat Steve Lindbeck, Libertarian candidate Jim McDermott and unaffiliated candidate Bernie Souphanavong, voters’ answers were immediate. Several said Tuesday that Young has been doing a good job and that it makes sense to keep him in office.
“I’m a die-hard,” Marshall said of Young. “I don’t care if he’s 108.”
The Nikiski Fire Station No. 1, the voting location for the Salamatof precinct, had racked up nearly 500 votes by shortly after 12:30 p.m. Voters flowed steadily in and out for the first half of the day, said Jodie Titus, the precinct’s elections chair. The traditionally less busy North Peninsula Recreation Center was also crowded with people — a line began to snake out the door around 1 p.m. there.
Soldotna City Hall chambers were packed as well, with three lines streaming out the door and into the cold. The ballot counting machine there ticked past 600 votes by noon.
“(We’re seeing) a lot of first-time voters, which is great,” said Janet St. Clair, one of the volunteers at Soldotna City Hall.
A few voters even beat some of the poll workers who arrived early to open up the polling places at 7 a.m. At the Kalifornsky Beach Road fire station, 10–15 people were gathered near the door waiting for the election workers to open up, said volunteer Darlene Merlo. Voter turnout tends to be higher in presidential years, but the poll workers said they thought this might be a recordbreaking year for turnout.
“That’s never happened before, that there’s been so many (waiting),” she said.