Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correctly attribute a quote.
For the first time in his life, Ben Heaverley voted in Soldotna on Tuesday evening.
The 24-year-old Soldotna man’s father, George Heaverley, accompanied him into the booth and the two spoke quietly about the candidates, the issues and, ultimately, how Ben Heaverley decided to cast his vote.
A steady stream of people filled the booths around him and several polling locations reported higher-than-normal voter turnouts on election day.
At the Challenger Learning Center, in Kenai, more than 500 voters cast their ballots, said volunteer Carl Glick.
“Normally, we are in the 300s here,” he said. “At least 150 more people came out than is normal.”
Also in Kenai, Carol Freas at the Old Kenai Mall, said more than 950 people had turned up to vote.
While the number is significantly more than the average for local elections, it is not unusual for gubernatorial and state races to raise awareness and voter interest, Freas said.
Several smaller communities saw higher turnouts as well.
At the Ninilchik Senior Center Will Bauman said 519 people had voted.
“We had a fantastic turnout,” he said. “Just a continuous flow of people. Everybody says this is the most we’ve had for quite a number of years.”
Jodie Titus, a volunteer at the Nikiski Fire Station No. 1, said the 996 voters officials saw were reminiscent of a presidential election.
“This is the highest we’ve had this year,” she said.
In Anchor Point, Bobby Ness said volunteers had seen 777 people cast ballots.
“That’s a whole lot more than we normally see,” she said. “It has been really steady. At times we’ve had people backing up. It has been really good for us, we’re real excited.”
For many of the Kenai Peninsula voters, the race for the U.S. Senate seemed to weigh heavily on their minds.
The race shattered state records for spending, nearly $57 million was spent throughout the campaign, according to OpenSecrets.org. The vast majority of that money, more than $40 million of it, came from Outside organizations. That money went into a barrage of radio, television and print advertising and smear campaigns that have lasted for several weeks. For some, like Linda Faro of Sterling, the ads put her off from the campaigns. She said she didn’t like the bad-mouthing and voted for incumbent Mark Begich over Republican challenger Dan Sullivan.
“I think Sullivan was questionable in my mind plus he has some philosophical beliefs that run opposite of mine as far as women’s rights and so forth,” Faro said.
Gloria Ager, of Sterling, also voted for Begich because, she said, she did not want to see Sullivan resurrect discussion on the Pebble Mine.
For some, the Senate vote had less to do with Alaska issues and more to do with politics nationwide.
MaryLee Killinger, of Kenai, said the election was important to her because the candidates would determine the future of the country.
“I want to break up the gridlock (in the Senate),” she said.
Bill Mabrey, of Soldotna, said he wanted to see Democrats keep control of the Senate.
“Right now, I would like to see the Republicans out of power,” he said. “I don’t like the way they treat our country, I don’t like they way they treat people.”
The Democrats did lose control of the Senate on Tuesday, losing seats in states like Colorado and Iowa. Republicans needed six seats to gain the majority; they also picked up seats in Montana, South Dakota, Arkansas, West Virginia and North Carolina.
Other issues highlighted by Kenai Peninsula voters included the governor’s race which pitted incumbent Republican Sean Parnell against non-affiliated challenger Bill Walker.
Walker’s campaign held an early, but narrow lead at press time. With 78 percent of Alaska’s precincts reporting, Walker carried just 47 percent of the votes, while Parnell carried just over 46 percent.
Roger and Gloria Ager, of Sterling, said they both voted for Walker.
“Parnell is creepy, I don’t want him in there,” Gloria said.
Janet Miller said she voted for Walker because of his unity ticket with Democrat Byron Mallot.
“I just like the fact that one’s a Republican and one’s a Democrat. I think they need to start talking,” she said.
Elsewhere on the Kenai Penisula, voters also weighed in on some of the ballot propositions.
On Prop. 2, which would legalize and regulate marijuana in the state, Laura Faro, of Sterling voted “no.”
She said she went “back and forth” on the issue, but ultimately considered the substance to be a “gateway drug.”
Michael Bishop, of Kasilof, voted in favor of the proposition.
“The time has come,” he said. “You can’t overdose on it. I’d rather let kids stay home and smoke pot than drink beer. I don’t want them driving drunk.”
With 85 percent of the state’s precincts voting, the measure looked as though it would pass with 52 percent of the votes cast in favor.
Both Bishop and Jerry Matthews, of Kasilof, said they voted “yes” on Ballot Measure 4 which would give the legislature power to prohibit mining projects in Bristol Bay. The measure is a response to the proposed Pebble Mine.
“The Pebble Mine is part of the worst idea anybody came up with,” Bishop said. “Ecosystems here are godlike. Things take millions of years to evolve into systems and the beauty and vastness of intrinsic wealth is not to be messed with for some copper and iron.”
With nearly 86 percent of the precincts voting, the measure looked as though it would pass. More than 65 percent of voters approved it.
Locally, incumbents dominated.
Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, kept his seat representing Senate District O by getting more than 77 percent of the 10,500 votes cast. Non-affiliated challenger Eric Treider carried 22 percent of the vote.
In the House, District 30 incumbent Republican Kurt Olson defeated Democrat challenger Shauna Thornton with nearly 74 percent of the vote.
In House District 29, longtime Rep. Mike Chenualt, R-Nikiski, held onto his seat with more than 76 percent of the vote. Challenger Rocky Knudsen got just over 22 percent.
Paul Seaton, R-Homer, ran unopposed in House District 31 and got more than 97 percent of the vote.