“Slow” and “snail’s pace” were among the words central peninsula election workers used to describe voter traffic at their respective precincts during Tuesday’s municipal election. One worker in Soldotna studied a Sudoku puzzle while another tended to a colorful crochet project — both looking to pass the time in between voters.
Against the backdrop of a sunny autumn day, residents throughout the borough headed to their polling places to cast ballots in races for local office. Seats were open on five city councils, the local board of education, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and numerous service area boards. In Seward, residents were also voting on whether or not to sell the city’s electric utility.
Depending on where voters live, some ballots had no contested races. People voting for Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor, Soldotna mayor, the school board’s Soldotna seat and the borough assembly’s Kenai seat were all, for example, presented with just one candidate.
Teresa Minnich, who was helping run the Mackey Lake precinct at Soldotna Prep School, said the number of uncontested races contributes to low turnout, but she also pointed to a lack of awareness. She said that if there were a presidential election going on, they would have people lined up. That low awareness, she said, is in part because of the fewer number of contested races — and by extension fewer signs around town.
“I don’t know how many people got information in the mail because I know there were some mix-ups there,” she said. “And, they’re not mailing out the pamphlet books and so that, I think, plays a big part of it as well.”
The borough assembly in January decided to stop mailing borough residents physical copies of the borough’s voter information pamphlet. Assembly members cited a $30,000 cost-savings and the large number of discarded pamphlets at peninsula post offices as among the reasons they supported the move.
Kelly Noble, who was assisting voters at the Nikiski Community Recreation Center, also reported slow, albeit steady, turnout. That’s despite two contested races on the ballot.
“It should be better,” she said.
Still, poll workers celebrated those residents who showed up to cast a ballot, and not every precinct reported low turnout.
“They care about the community for sure,” said Cindy Newby, who was helping run the Central precinct hosted at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. “That has to be it. They care about voting and it’s an important thing to them.”
Susan Smalley, at the Kenai No. 2 precinct, said one of their voters was a young city resident voting in his first election.
“It was exciting for him, his mom, and for us,” Smalley said.
Soldotna poll worker Lauri Kapp reported “decent” turnout at the precinct located in the Soldotna Public Library.
“We’re seeing a lot of the same faces,” Kapp said. “We have a lot of great residents that make a point to come and vote.”
Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly candidate Bill Elam spent Tuesday waving to motorists at the intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways. Elam, proudly wearing two turquoise “I VOTED TODAY, DID YOU?” stickers, said he cast his ballot first thing in the morning, then headed to the Soldotna “Y” to wave signs bearing his name in big, block letters.
“What was great is all the people that I actually know that drive by,” Elam said. “You get to wave at them and (it’s) just kind of a reminder.”
Later joined by his wife, Sandra, and their three sons, William, Andrew and James, Elam said his goal was to remind passersby that it was election day.
“I just want people to know that there’s an election going on,” he said. “Get people to come out and vote — that’s the real important part.”
In Homer, those at the polls were as invested in their civic responsibility to vote as they were in the candidates on the ballot.
Voter Allan Crawford he doesn’t like when people complain about the outcome of an election they didn’t vote in.
“All these people always complain about how an election turns out and they never bothered to go out,” Crawford said. “It’s sad we have this wonderful opportunity and don’t do it.”
Jill Berryman had similar thoughts.
“You’ve got to participate, otherwise don’t gripe about it,” she said.
Homer residents Dealand and Christine Anderson said the importance of voting isn’t always about what’s on the ballot. Christine said voting is a civic duty, “no matter the election.”
“Sometimes (voting) doesn’t matter,” Dealand Anderson said. “ … There were uncontested seats on this ballot, but I just make it a habit to vote. It’s important to make your face seen.”
Voter Pete Cleary said he turned out because he wanted to vote for candidates who he thought were the best for his community.
“It’s important to put your voice in,” Cleary said. “Every vote matters.”